A while ago, I read a post on someone's blog (I don't remember whose, unfortunately. If you have any idea, feel free to tell me) about getting back to the basics of one's story. I think the post was about remembering what the story was about as you write it.
I think this is very important. One has to remember what the story is really about, what tale one is actually trying to tell, or there's a pretty good chance the story is going to run all over the place and look like a half-baked version of four or five things. That's not what we want. I'm not disputing that there can be more than one story going on at once, but we'd like everything to be fully baked, wouldn't we.
I've come up to think problem myself. Working on The Thief Book, I realized that one of the reasons I really didn't like the ending I'd written was because it looked like a whole different story. I'd somehow lost track of the story I'd been telling -- which I really liked -- and accidentally got into some weird other sort of thing. I knew I needed to get back to the basics of the story and work from there.
I think that getting back to the basics of the story, the real kernel of it all, is very helpful. If you sense you're floundering in the story or don't know where to go from where you're at, ask yourself what you basic story is, what tale you're trying to tell. Use those basics to get a handle on where you are. This will allow you to focus on the one idea at a time and not going wandering off into the misty marshes of randomness.
Caveat: If you're a panster, you're probably not going to know what the basics are until you've got your first draft to work with, or maybe until you're pretty well into the draft. But, when you're re-figuring your story with what you've got, knowing your basic point can still be very helpful.
How do you feel about the basics of your story? Do you attempt to keep in line with the basics? Do you spend a lot of time trying to get back to those basics?