I won't say that I retained everything I learned in college. Heck, I won't say I remember most. But some things stick with me as I work on writing and editing the novel. My teacher, the esteemed Leslie Epstein, always stressed a strong outline for a story. If you free wheel, you tend to end up with a mishmash of ideas and no real point. Remember that nearly every combination of elements has been tried and tried again, often without success. Before you start any new piece, ask yourself why you're telling it.
Does something specifically important happen? Is this character unique or interesting in any real way? Are you action sequences really that freakin' awesome?
More than likely you'll answer no to many of these questions, but that's OK. You wanna write it? Go get 'em, tiger.
I've written more than my fair share of terrible stories, all in the name of writing something truly interesting. I have a short that read 28 pages long, all about giant sand golems from space that take over Earth. Which all somehow had to do with a convoluted love story between a cadet and his teacher. It was epically terrible, but some of the themes and scenes from that crap fest ended up in the scifi novel, filtered down to their bare elements of course.
My point is that, as Heinlein famously said, a writer must write. And if you want to be a writer, than you need to finish what you start. No matter how it ends.
Which brings us back to the outline. How else do you expect to build the proper foundation for a solid story? If you can lay the groundwork for a beginning and middle, some A and B plot per se, then the ending will come much easier. Even better, the whole thing can make a lick of sense.
I free wrote my novel, which was not at all a good idea. It took much longer than it should have, and in the end I did not accomplish my original goal of actually finishing the story. Now, while playing with ideas for book two of the trilogy, I am actually designing an outline chapter by chapter to really get this story flowing.
And it feels great.
So here is your homework, you writers out there (who somehow accidentally found this blog). Take a story you love, one you wrote and didn't finish--or finished and hate the ending. Start over with an outline of the plot and see what you get. Can you summarize the story in a few sentences? Can you find your A, B and C stories? If not, try harder. You have the words inside, just spit them out onto the page.
Now, flesh out the outline into beats. For scriptwriters, this means literal beats and scenes. For novelists, try laying out individual chapters.
If you can manage to do that, I bet the next step of actually writing things down will come much more quickly. And if it doesn't, there's always working in an office.