I've had so many people ask for advice or tips on writing a novel lately, I thought it might be easier to put my comments into a blog post. Disclaimer: this is by no means "Writing A Novel 101" - these are purely my comments, as this is how I do it. I'm sure if you ask other writers, they'll give you totally different information, but as you asked me (or some of you did, at least), here's my two cents worth. In no particular order:
Read anything you can get your hands on in the genre you want to write in. Take notes, mentally or physically. You might want to note how characters are introduced, what takes place on the first page of the book to drag you into the story, how much or how little background information is relayed to the reader in the first chapter, the amount of scene-setting that takes place - whatever. Just familiarise yourself with other ways of doing these things. You will have your own way of doing things, but like anything, there is always room to learn. The more you read, the more you learn.
Decide who your characters are and then write back stories for each of them. By the time you come to write the actual novel, you'll know your characters inside out, which will make it easier to know how they'll react in any given situation. Your characters become your friends, and when you know your friends really well, you can write about them with confidence.
Plan your beginning and your end from the outset. The middle usually happens all by itself (and you want to leave yourself some playing room to brainstorm etc along the way). If you don't know where your story starts and ends, it will make figuring it out as you go a long, tedious process. Been there, done that. Of course, you can change either of these things (beginning or end) - this is only your first draft.
Get in there and get that baby written! The first draft will probably suck - although at the time, it won't feel like it does. Even if it does, stick with it - finish it anyway. Do not - I repeat DO NOT - edit as you write. Just write, plain and simple - you can edit later, and you don't want to get bogged down with getting it perfect the first time. Trust me, that won't happen so let go of that right now! As an aside, I tend to pre-plan my chapters as soon as I have an idea of where I'm going. I write a few lines per scene, and then work on fleshing out each scene when I sit down to write again (I usually only get small chunks of time to write, so I don't want to forget any ideas I had from the last writing session). When it comes to the middle, I will usually pre-plan each of the remaining chapters, fleshing them out as I work my way through the book. This usually helps me see ahead and make sure the story will work out the way I want it to.
PUT IT AWAY
Once the first draft is done, put it away for a month. You can put it away for longer, but a month usually does it for me. Allow your brain to NOT think about it every moment of every day. Relax.
DIG IT OUT
Once the month is up, dig out your manuscript again and look at it. You'll see it with fresh eyes - try not to cringe. Edit it to within an inch of its life - change it, improve it, play with it. Then when it's done, put it away again for a couple of weeks. Repeat the process until you're happy with it.
SHOW IT TO SOMEONE
Give it to someone you trust to read - one who will give you honest feedback and (here's the key) IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. Listen to what they say but only take on board the advice you believe will improve the story. Everyone has an opinion but YOURS is the only one that matters here.
EDIT IT AGAIN
If you feel it needs it. Show it to someone else and repeat above process. If the same feedback keeps coming up (ie: unlikeable hero), you should look at this seriously. If more than a few people bring up this point, it might be they are seeing something you are not. Take another look. You may also consider gaining feedback from one of the many online writing communities - www.authonomy.com, www.fictionpress.com or www.wattpad.com. Feedback is valuable!
I'd love to give you advice on publishing, but I don't have any at this point. "Absolution" is my first published novel, so I'm a complete amateur in that field, however I've written several novels so I feel able to share the above with you with some measure of confidence. Like I said at the beginning though, this is what I've found works for me. What works for you may be different, but you'll only know that once you get your head down, your butt up and WRITE!
Oh and one last piece of advice: stay focused and believe in yourself. It's a marathon not a sprint.