I’ve been writing since sometime around September 1988. I’ll admit, my first efforts were pathetic at best, and downright awful at worst. They were little vignette pieces, Star Trek: the Next Generation pastiches which I created original characters for. I don’t have any of these “stories” any more, but I do remember most of my original character were to some degree Mary Sues, I couldn’t get a good grip on the canon characters’ characterization, and they were extremely incomplete. I’d write a scene, then write the next scene I had in mind, and so on, then leave the empty spaces between them empty; I was writing them linearly (even then, I was a linear writer), but I was leaving out a lot more than I was putting in.
Over the next nine or ten years, I developed the ability to write more in my stories. They were by no means complete, and I recognized this around 1995. I read through one of the stories I’d considered “completed” and realized it was little more than a glorified outline.
Two years later, in the autumn of 1997, I discovered the recently-created Forward Motion for Writers website when we got our first home computer. I was working in manufacturing then, and between having hours of time when my mind had little else to do except create plots and scenes for my writing and the critiques I received and made on the site, I developed better writing skills.
Even with this, I did not come close to creating solid first drafts. For the next approximately four years, until I left North Carolina to try and make a life out in Colorado, I practiced, and I learned. As I did so, my writing skills improved. I moved from making glorified outlines to decent full first drafts.
Then, from Colorado, I joined the Navy. Gave up writing for the duration, until I returned to North Carolina in November of 2002. I rediscovered FM and set to practicing my writing skills and made further improvements. I still wasn’t quite getting just what I wanted in my first drafts, so I became an adder-inner—a writer who puts in more details and stuff after they’ve written their first draft. I still wrote linearly, and I did my best not to skip scenes unless I felt forced to.
Then, in August of 2003, I went back out to Colorado, to try living on my own again. There, I realized I’d end up homeless again, and a friend invited me to come stay with him and his wife here in Utah. So I came to Utah.
My new friends had a computer they let me use, and I continued writing. I was working on a science fantasy project at the time and couldn’t decide how alien I wanted my characters to look, so set that aside for a couple months and worked on pure fantasy stuff for a while. Then, in about 2004 or 05, when my friends had to get a smaller apartment, I moved out on my own and was once again without a computer. I still got online at the local library, but I couldn’t write.
For about eight or so months, I lived in a residential hotel. Rent was about $320 a month there, and I barely scraped by some months because hours at my job as a survey taker (over the phone) fluctuated. I had food stamps. Eventually, I was able to move into a proper apartment, when my application at the City Housing Authority finally came to the top of the list for one of the programs I’d applied to.
So now I had a home. Still no computer until Mom sent me our old one from North Carolina prior to moving out here herself—in I think 2005 or 06. With the computer, I was able to write again, and I threw myself into it whenever I had time to spare and ideas to type out.
Now I changed my focus in my writing from learning about it (that’s an important part still, but I do it other ways than how I was doing it previously) to doing my best to create the story I saw in my head the with the first draft. I wasn’t frequently successful in this endeavor at first, but I got better. Then, in 2010-11, I started outlining my stories.
I can’t say how much outlining has helped me. I’d worked myself into getting first drafts I was satisfied with. I’d no longer been skipping too many scenes unintentionally, I was getting better at including description and not infodumping. But the outlines helped even more.
I have worked myself into the ability to get solid first drafts. It has always been a goal for me since I realized I wasn’t doing it back in the mid-90’s. It’s taken a lot of effort and practice. I wanted to write solid first drafts because I’m not a very fast writer—I never have been, for various reasons—and thought if I could just get a good, solid first draft that had the complete story in it, I’d have a good writing foundation to work from.
But it took me over 20 years of writing to get to this point. Years well-spent, but years of constant practice nonetheless.