"IB, I'd agree - unhelpfully!
- with Lammi that there are as many different ways of writing a novel as there are novelists. You'll probably find that some ways suggested strike more of a chord with you than others, but in the end you'll have to accept that you may look back on your finished first draft and realise another modus operandi
might have suited you better. If you do, it's not a failure, or even a mistake, it's a sign that you've learnt something important about your writing self.
Some have a general idea, wait for the first sentence to strike them, then set off into the wild blue yonder of Chapter One. When inspiration fails they do a Chandler and make a man walk in the door pointing a gun. Others start the same way, but work out the characters and what happens to them in more detail before they actually write 'Chapter One' at the head of the first page. Many start with a situation, as Lammi does, others start with a character, or a combination of the two, or two characters whose interaction is the motor of the plot. I know of one or two who write any scene when it occurs to them, from wherever it happens in the book, and then lay the scenes out and knit them together at the end. But I think they must have a pretty clear idea of the whole novel in their head to do that.
A question like Lammi's is a very good engine to propel the writing.
FWIW my novels start with a vision - and I do mean that, it's always wholly visual - of a person, in a place, and so my questions are usually 'how did they get there?' and 'what happened next?', and I chew simultaneously on character and place (which includes period) until I have enough to plan out the chapters, at the depth of ten or twenty words each. I'm researching alongside, so that throws up all sorts of ideas which feed into my plans. But I write long, multi-layered novels where the structure has to be very strictly controlled. Even so, I still plan in pencil, metaphorically and actually, because everything - even structure - is provisional. Then I let it stew till I hear my first sentence, and then I've got the narrator's voice, and the point in the story where this narrative starts. I've almost never changed that first sentence, whatever else changes later.
Some refuse to move on from a page until it's perfect, then never touch it again. Some people start by revising yesterday's work before moving onto the new bit. That gets you back into it, but the temptation is always to go on fiddling with it rather than doing the tougher work of writing more. It's worth keeping a word count at the end of every day, so you can pat yourself on the back for a few more hundred words, if nothing else. And it's worth resisting the temptation to go back when you realise an earlier chapter needs revising: just make notes, and keep pushing on. That way you experience the story as nearly as you can to the way the reader does.
There are wonderful insights into different writers' practice in the Paris Review interviews. The list of authors has a rather White American Male bias, but it's still pretty staggering. Many are available online, and there are lots of themed anthologies which a library could get you; they're published by Harvill, I think. And I see they've just started a new 'best of' series of anthologies.
<a href="http://www.writersresist.org/best-online-writing-courses/">Writer's Resist</a>
Good luck! Anyone who embarks on a novel deserves respect for courage, and anyone who finishes one - however terrible they immediately realise it to be - deserves even more.
I couldn't agree more Emma. These are greats points to consider. Hopefully you see this response as it's been awhile since the original post :)