"It's as if writing were a high dive, and during the earlier stages we were just climbing the ladder." -- Bruce Holland Rogers
"The earlier stages" Rogers is referring to are such things as outlining, research, imagining story details, listing character traits, etc -- whatever a writer does before actually writing the first sentence of their novel. That's the stage I'm at now for the next book. Actually, I'm at the point where I've told my editor the equivalent of, "I'm going to do a high dive. There will be a ladder, and there will be a platform, and I will dive into a big tub of water." In other words, she has a (very short) synopsis of the story, noting the main characters, the main conflicts, and the general gist of the plot.
Now I've got to write a longer, more detailed synopsis -- I've got to describe the ladder, the platform, the water and possibly my costume. Then I'll send that to her and hope she likes it. If not, changes will be made. Once that synopsis is approved, however, that's the end of the "climing the ladder" stage for me. I will dive off the platform and start writing the book.
I will not have done a chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene outline. I will not have done any sort of outline at all, except for that synopsis. I will not have written character descriptions beyond what's in the synopsis. I will not have described all the activity. I tell myself I like to leave myself open for "surprises" -- developments that come along the way that energize me. That doing too much prep will mean I'm bored with the story before I even start to write it.
The truth is, I'm impatient.
I know full well I could save myself tons of effort and rewriting if I outlined more. However, I simply can't wait to get my characters talking. I love dialogue, and I've yet to see any writing how-to that suggests you write several pages of dialogue before you begin your book. They're all about narrative and/or charts or other diagrams. This is one reason why I will sometimes break one of those so-called rules and put dialogue in a synopsis. I simply cannot help it.
This is also why I find coming up with physical descriptions of my characters kind of a pain -- I don't see them so much as hear them. I remember sitting in the theater at the start of "Gladiator" and realizing that Russell Crowe's slightly raspy voice sounded exactly the way I'd imagined my latest hero speaking. Never mind what he looks like, that's The Voice!
Fortunately, and unfortunately (because it means I'm even more impatient to get to the actual book), I've already met the hero of THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT. He's the brother of the hero of MY LORD'S DESIRE, so I've already heard him speak and I can hardly wait to get him talking more -- and unlike many of my heroes, he's not reticent! Most of all, though, I can hardly wait to get him talking to the heroine. And trying to make her see his point. And listening to her refute his point, or ignore his point, or tell him to take his point and... well, you get my drift. That's what I love about writing. That's what excites me, and thrills me most about writing.
That's why I smile, throw out my arms and dive.