I often hear other writers say "I have so many ideas, I don't know which one to choose! My head is just full of them."
Lucky them. If I have an idea, I hold onto it for dear life. I've had exactly three in the past five years. All of them turned into projects, but I can't say that there was any competition.
I am not one of those writers whose mind is full of characters and plots jostling around crying "Pick me! Pick me!" I don't watch a movie and think "What if I made the main character a man instead of a woman, put him in Arizona instead of Alaska and made him a doctor instead of a fisherman? What would happen then?" Instead I think "Gee, Alaska has really nice scenery."
This is because for me, writing (and life) has always been about the scenery. I can't help it if I grew up in one of the most beautiful places on Earth... Northeast Ohio. No, I'm not kidding! Deep, snowy winters; rainy, dreamlike Springs; lush and seductive summers; riotous and abundant autumns. We roamed the fields and woods. We caught frogs in the pond, bass and bluegill in the lake and crayfish in the stream. There were blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, elderberries, wild grapes, apples, plums and walnuts, not to mention the tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes in the garden. And the flowers! Snapdragons, pansies, jonquils, roses, tulips, lilies-of-the-valley, spring beauties, jack-in-the-pulpits, the elusive mayflower, lilacs, buttercups, indian paintbrushes and Queen Anne's Lace. We made mint and strawberry tea for our dolls, played Little House in the Prairie in the woods and, when we were older, sang Olivia Newton John songs on the picnic table with an invisible microphone. Winters were spent huddled around the fireplace or the furnace vent and, more often than not, we were snowed in for Christmas.
For me, writing starts with a sense of place. Of setting. The characters have to be extruded from this into personalities distinct from their place and time. This takes a little effort, but when it happens they become like real people living inside my head: talking, dreaming, falling in love, making decisions, taking up quests and even dying regardless of what my plans may have been for them.
I am currently reading a book by a successful author on how to write a novel. He postulates that the way to write a novel is to plan out the entire book not just down to the chapter level, but in terms of what will happen in every paragraph. Now, he is definitely a successful writer because his books are everywhere, so this method must work for him. To me, it sounds about as exciting as writing a term paper.
Perhaps he is one of those "idea" guys. Perhaps he has so many possibilities in his head that he just has to pick some and put them in his outline. Perhaps ideas flow faster when you are working under contract. I wouldn't know.
But personally, I have no idea what my characters are going to do until they do it. I just give them a starting point and go along for the ride. I know I will have to go back to the beginning, which is probably somewhere in the middle, and restructure everything eventually. But for now I'm just along for the ride and enjoying every minute of it.