I'm currently in the processing of writing and finishing my first full-length novel (One that isn't fanfiction. Sorry-not-sorry for writing the best Harry Potter fanfiction in the world as my first lengthy literary creation). However, this process isn't all peaches and cream, or rainbows and glitter, etc. It's more akin to a constant cycle of self-loathing, questioning my skill (and my sanity), a shit-ton of deleting everything on the page, and a whole lot of procrastinating. If you want a look into what it's like to write a novel, or even a short story or poetry, then strap in and strap on, things are about to get real:
1. The Great Idea
You're probably in the shower, singing the latest Queen B hit when Bam! An idea hits you like a ton of bricks and you scurry to the living room, still naked and wet, to write down your newest brilliant plot before it leaves your brain forever.
Pro-tip: Write it down. "I'll remember" is the biggest lie you will ever tell yourself. The minute you decide to wait is the minute your goldfish brain decides to filter out anything of use-- i.e. the plot you just came up with.
2. The Outlining
This is a two-step process for me. First I come up with all names and ages for the main characters (which typically takes about one week), the settings, and the main plot points. The second step is to get a visual storyboard so I can keep everything alive in my mind--this is especially useful if, like me, you end up walking away from your story for more than a few days. I use Pinterest for this, you can check out my most recent board here, but even throwing everything together in a Google Doc. or Word Doc. would do the trick.
Pro-tip: Make the storyboard. So many books are severely lacking in the description department because, honestly, it's hard to thoroughly describe something that is only a figment of your imagination. Having a physical-ish representation of your ideas is so helpful and will help make your first draft just that little bit better.
3. The Rough Draft
This is called a rough draft for a reason: it sucks. It really does. In my opinion, don't even try to edit anything along the way, just write and write and write until you're finished. This step is the hardest and is what prevents a majority of aspiring authors (published or otherwise) from actually finishing a story.
Pro-tip: Seriously. Do not edit. At the very least, wait until you've finished typing for the day, then go back and look through the section you've completed. Editing along the way usually ends up being a distraction and slows down this process considerably. The sooner you get the rough draft done, the sooner it can transform from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.
4. The Self Doubt
You will experience this step on multiple occasions, I'm sure, but it is always the hardest right after you finish the rough draft. This happens about halfway through the first editing process and you start wondering whether or not this idea was good at all. You will probably encounter plot-hole after plot-hole and you will end up confused. You will likely want to delete everything and start over thinking that your story doesn't make sense and that there's no hope for it.
Pro-tip: Don't delete it. Force yourself to edit what you have and make notes as to what needs to be improved in terms of plot, development, etc. You can add all of that stuff in during the second run-through, the important thing is that you finished the first draft and that it's just that: a draft. You're not publishing it--it's a stepping stone.
5. Second Wind #1
You finally get over the slump of depression that your first draft put you in and you realize that you have something good going on. You edit day and night to make your "diamond in the rough" less...well, rough.You're convinced it won't need further editing after this round (false) and that you're going to be published quicker than you can say J. K. Rowling (also false).
Pro-tip: Don't build your hopes up too high. Novels, especially if your goal is to get published, go through so many editing processes that it isn't funny. Your story will get built up and torn down more times than you thought possible. The important thing is to keep going: quitters don't get published and eventually, movie deals.
6. The Defeat
You've edited the draft and added in everything you thought needed to be added--and you hate it. You think it's a piece of garbage and no agent will even take a second glance at it. You're right. At this point, no one wants to read it and that's why you need to keep going. Take a step back, focus on other projects for a month or so, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. You will see that it has a lot of potential, but you'll need to put in some effort.
Pro-tip: Have other people read it. Few people will likely want to because it's time-consuming, but a few will. Have them write down their thoughts and reactions. What's boring to you may be exciting to a reader, and vice-versa.
7. Second Wind #2
You've gotten feedback from your friends and family and looked at your work after taking a break. You know exactly what to keep and what to change to make it a masterpiece and you haven't been this excited to write since the day you came up with the idea.
Pro-tip: Make notes as you go, even if you think it's the most perfect thing in the world. Nitpick as much as you can in order to make it the best. If you land an agent, you don't want to hand over a mediocre draft. It will make the professional editing down the road much less painful.
8. The Relief
You've done it. You've edited and re-edited and re-edited again until you can't possible edit anymore without help from a professional. You've received the greenlight from your beta-readers and you truly believe in your work. You've finally done it: you've finished a novel and made it the best you possibly can.
Pro-tip: Don't stop there! Hire that editor. Write that query letter. Atrract that agent! Become the next E. L. James (Ew. Just kidding, pick a good author to model yourself after). Profit.