I keep running across people who think that there is One Right Way to write a story, and who tie themselves in knots trying to force themselves to write “the right way” when it doesn’t suit their particurlar mental processes. Somewhere, somehow, they’ve gotten convinced (usually because some authority figure like an editor or highly respected author or influential teacher told them) that the only way to come up with a Really Good Book/Short-Story is to do X.
Usually, “X” is something like “start with your characters” or “do a scene-by-scene plot outline before you do anything else” or “lay out the entire background in grim detail before you even start thinking about plot or characters,” but it can be just about anything, so long as the author is convinced that it’s necessary to do whatever-it-is in order to produce a “good book.”
The effect can be an awful lot like tying both hands behind your back and then trying to swim the English Channel, especially if the particular X happens to be contrary to the author’s way of working. Even if X is something that works for a particular writer most of the time, it can cause problems if the writer is suddenly faced with a story that needs some other process, because when people think that they must work in a particular way, they’re likely to find themselves in a mental straightjacket that can be very difficult to get out of.
Writing a story is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Some people start by doing all the edges. Some people put together all the sky first. Some people like to do the trees and houses. Some people look for easy bits and pieces all through. One of my sisters used to drive everybody else in the family crazy, because she’d start at one edge of the puzzle and work her way methodically across to the other edge, and nobody does a jigsaw puzzle like that!
But it doesn’t matter what order you put the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together in. What matters is that they are all in the right places when you are finished. And it doesn’t matter whether you start at the end of the story, or the beginning; with the plot or the characters or the setting; whether you skip around and write scenes out of order or whether you begin at the beginning and work straight through to the end.
What matters is that when you are finished, you have a good story, however you managed to get there.