Everyone needs to make a path through the woods so that they can come out the other side; I know my Hansel and Gretel. Hansel's breadcrumbs weren't the best idea of course, but his thinking was sound. How do writers keep themselves on track...on their particular path through the woods? Here are my breadcrumbs.
Breadcrumb #1: Know your ending.
It's impossible (for me, anyway) to start moving if I don't know where I'm going to end up. I know the ending of my books before I know the beginnings.
Breadcrumb #2: Know who is with you on the journey.
Know your characters, or at least know your main characters. Others may join you for a while, but they have to leave before the end of the journey. If they insist on staying (maybe they have a fail-proof method for getting everyone out of the forest) then they may deserve to stay and someone else may have to leave. Be brutal. There's only so many breadcrumbs.
Breadcrumb #3: Ignore the side paths.
I realize this is easier said than done, but side paths aren't shortcuts, they're just interesting diversions that keep you away from the main path and end up nowhere.
Breadcrumb #4: Make sure you don't throw down the same breadcrumb every time.
This is my way of saying don't forget red herrings or sub-plots.
Breadcrumb #5: Ignore the witch's house.
The witch's house is the greatest problem of all and for this metaphor it's whatever is calling your attention away from the path. It could be self-doubt. It could be fear of an approaching deadline. Just keep going along the path and soon you'll leave the witch's house far behind and reach the other side of the forest. That is the time for candy.
How do you make it through the woods? What are your breadcrumbs?