At the risk of sounding quite crackers, my stories usually begin when a character walks into my head; they always have a story attached. They are often associated with a particular place as well. They mooch around for a bit and eventually become insistent that I write them down – often then the story continues to develop from there. The writing process occasionally drives on to the end (deadlines can be handy), but more often than not continues in fits and starts over a variable time frame.
If I leave it too long though, the characters do start nagging! I used to like to have a plan – that is frequently the received wisdom, have a framework; beginning, middle and end – and that can be really useful. However I have found it sometimes blocks me; if I don’t know what’s going to happen and how and why and wherefore, I find often that I can’t get anywhere at all. Plus, and again you may think this sounds nuts, sometimes my characters will just go and do or say something unexpected, and then that messes up my plan and sends me back to square one. “But you’re the writer” I hear you cry. “Surely it’s up to you what they do and say?” Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? But alas, not always. And scarily, sometimes the characters do know best! So using a variety of methods seems to work best. Sometimes, as the King said in Alice in Wonderland, I begin at the beginning, go on until I reach the end, and then stop. Sometimes I write the bits I know, and then fill in the rest around them. And occasionally I start at the end, and work backwards!