One on my favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, would sit and create sonnets in her head, not writing them down until each line was perfect. Milton, as we all learned in school, was blind and he said Paradise Lost to an amanuensis as he composed it. He claimed that a divine spirit inspired him at night and in the morning he would recite new verses. Both of these authors knew what they wanted to say before committing to print. I envy them.
I seem to be working out the novel as I go. My story hasn’t changed since the first draft, but they way I want to tell it has. I’m in the midst of tedious editing as I change the chronology and presentation of events. The thing that bothers me is that I can’t really write in an inspired way for long stretches. It’s more like solving, or rather creating, a puzzle at this point. So I write a bit, think a bit, switch a scene or delete something, and read over it. It’s a series of stops and starts.
Of course, when I was in the middle of the first draft, you wouldn’t have heard me going on about “inspired long stretches.” Those tended to only come after a fair amount of hard work, but looking back it seems like halcyon days. Now it also seems best to work everything out in your head first. Think of all the time and typing I could have saved. Maybe if my novel were 14 lines I could do that, but I certainly couldn’t come anywhere close to Milton. The bastard.