Start with the End
I hate planning. I am not a planner. For those of you who are, I'm happy for you, but it's not for me. My roommate is a planner and she laughs at my planning attempts. Here's some examples of "planning" notes I've left myself on my current project.
"I feel like, eventually, someone will die. But that'd also be super complicated. So maybe not."
"Update: ignore all previous notes. An unplanned character has shown up and changed everything."
"Update: Hallie has a stalker, apparently. Ignore all notes about her motives."
"Kaden says something dumb."
(on main plot point) "Hallie doesn't want this to happen. I don't know why."
"Can I explode a pumpkin here? I really want to explode a pumpkin here."
"Chapter 42: All of Kaden's sub-plot stuff should be resolved by now. But it's a little late for that seeing as there's only 3 chapters left and I don't even know what all the sub-plots are. Good luck."
"Uh... Many things will be happening. Like, loud things."
"Maybe something is on FIRE!"
"Alex shows up and is being his usual creepy self and saying creepy things."
In my defense, I usually write this notes around 2 or 3 in the morning right before I go to bed. But still, you can see that planning is not my strong suit. I write novels by asking what can go wrong and how the character would respond. Then I make things worse again. For the most part, that works.
It works much better when I have an end goal in mind. For most novels, one of the first things I write is the last chapter. Why? Because it gives me a goal to work toward. Sometimes, that doesn't work out. I looked at the notes I'd made for the ending of my current project and it's no longer relevant.
You see, I really wanted to write an explosion back toward the beginning. I was about to write one when I remembered I had a baby and an 8-year-old in the scene and I didn't want them to get hurt. So instead, one of the characters ended up with a stalker. It's made for an excellent story, but that one decision changed everything in the plot.
The end I had in mind is laughably irrelevant.
I mentioned last week that I'm struggling to write the end of this story. The other night, I sat down and decided I was going to do it. I was going to write the next chapter. I didn't. I wrote the last chapter.
Because I realized why it wasn't working. I didn't know where I was going. My ending was no longer relevant, but that meant I had no ending. I had nothing guiding the direction of the last few chapters. It felt wrong to jump ahead and write chapter 44 when 42 and 43 weren't written. But then I remembered that there's no need to write in order. In fact, when I was writing Definitions of Life, I wrote all the chapters out of order whenever the tone of a particular narrator struck me.
As soon as I wrote that ending, I was flooded with ideas. I was able to write out everything I wanted to have happen in those other two chapters. I've been sitting on them for about two weeks and now that I have a goal, I feel like I can write them.
So, if a section of your story is giving you trouble, skip it. You don't have to write in order. Skip to what you know and write that. Then go back to the trouble section and see if it makes sense. Think of it like a destination on a map. You can't follow a map if you don't know where you're going. But having a map can make the trip a lot easier.
You don't need to write in order. Give yourself a destination.
Do you write the ending before you get there? Does it help you?