A few days ago I discovered videos of a class Brandon Sanderson taught in 2012 on writing at BYU (http://www.writeaboutdragons.com). As I was watching, I began to see a new way to describe how I write. I write in the same way they used to build wooden ships. I start with the keel - the story from beginning to end, with little fleshed out in the middle. then I add in the ribs, knees, planking, masts, rigging, sails, and paint. Now that I have you confused, let me explain.
The keel is the core of building a wooden ship, like USS Constitution. It is what everything attaches to. This is your main storyline, your main idea. The thing that runs from beginning to ending. You know you start with the bow and end with the rudder, but what lies between is only an idea until the rest is built. You don't even know what the rudder will look like or how far it will turn, it's too soon for that, but you know where it meets the keel. You know where your story leads and what the end scene will be, even if you don't know how it plays out.
There are several ways to build the ship from here and I could describe in detail how a modern engineer would do it or an artist, but neither of those fit the way I work. An modern engineer would have a full CG plan of the ship done and just have to make the parts and put them together (the outliner). An artist might just wing it and through trial and error create the ribs, lay over the planking and so on (a pantster). The way it was done back in the day is closer to the way I write. I lay down the keel, construct the ribs, from bow to stern, lay in the beams, knees, overlay it with planking, starting at the keep and working up to the gunwales, then caulk the planks to make them watertight, then tar the hull and overlay it with copper sheathing (if I want it to last), then launch it. That is the first draft. A story complete and in the shape I want it, but with out the final polish. At a distance the hull looks complete, but there is work yet to do, but it does mean the story is set.
With the story set, it is time to edit, polish and finish it up. When it is ready, the hull slides down the ways into the water. So to when the story is finished and ready, it is time to submit it to agents, publishers, or get it ready for self-publishing. The book release is like a ship's maiden voyage, fully outfitted, crewed, and ready for the sea. The journey from finished hull and launching to maiden voyage is like taking that finished and complete manuscript and putting the final touches on it, editing, formatting, and giving it a cover and sending it out into the world of readers. There are many things to do to finish a book, but that story, laid down in the rough draft, remains constant. It all goes back to the keel, that original story idea and leads you from the opening lines to the final chapter.