So far this year I've taught four workshops. Two on conflict. One on revising. And now we're doing Journey Steps (a no-frills guide to plotting).
Doing these four back-to-back, I noticed that I consistently tell people to write a one-sentence or one-paragraph story summary.
Why do I torture people that way?
Because you need a guide. You might not need to know details but you need at least an idea of what kind of story you're writing, the external conflicts, the big picture, so that you start your story in the right place and the right way.
If you want to get a little more specific...you can then move onto a storyboard. I love storyboards because they help me to "see" my story.
That's actually what I did all last week. I plotted out my next book on a storyboard so I could see it at a glance. Of course, first I went to Staples and bought poster board and lots of colored markers...there's no reason a storyboard can't be fun. And in the end you have a very clear picture of your story. In living color if you choose!
Little tools like these seem to take up so much time that we think it's easier to just jump into the book and start writing...esp if you have a good idea for your first chapter.
But, trust me, having a one-line explnation of your story and a storyboard can actually save you more time than you ever expend creating them.
Plus, playing with colored markers and post-it notes is fun. :)
No matter where you are in your story right now, consider doing a storyboard. Write out your journey steps (the purpose for each scene) on a post it and slap those babies on a piece of poster board by chapter. You'll be surprised how easy it will be to write from that point on...and how easily you'll see mistakes. :( We don't like mistakes, but once we find them, we fix them and then move on.
And, really, isn't that better than struggling! (Or rereading your entire manuscript every time you forget what came before.)