The following is a set of steps I told my friend when he asked me how to write a novel. Obviously, there are myriad ways to go about writing. This is just one way, mine. If you write novels, feel free to comment with your process!
1. Try to find novels that sound like yours. There will be some. This is GOOD. It's not a bad thing. If you read them you will find ways to set yours apart. You can also query their agents later.
2. Sum up your novel in 1 sentence. Two clauses. It’s helpful for that sentence to follow this formula: When such and such event happens, your main character—a descriptive adjective, age, professional occupation—must confront further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way.
3. Write a preliminary synopsis. I usually follow the dramatic 5 Act structure. Though 3 acts works, too.
4. Expand your synopsis into an outline. OR start writing.
Let’s say 4 was an expanded outline. 5 would be the actual writing. A few strategies work for this. The first is to write it as quickly as you can, giving yourself word quotas per day. Another is to write what you can, as well as you can, frequently rereading what you have written to help continuity and plot progression. I do something between the two.
6. You’ve finished the first draft. Read through it and fix as much as you possibly can.
7 is crucial. Put your manuscript away for at least 3 months. Longer if you can. You need to not look at it or read it until you can’t remember exactly what you wrote, what happens, etc.
8. Time has passed. You read your manuscript. There are so many things you’d change now, and you’re glad for the distance you gained while letting it sit. You embark on a large revision, cutting out as many words as you can, adding scenes for clarification, beefing up your characters, arranging your plot.
9. Several drafts later, you have gotten your manuscript to the point where you can't think of anything else to change. Then you ask people to read it. Not the people who will pat you on the back and tell you you’re amazing, but the people who will tell you were a character falls slat or where they don’t understand how the plot jumps from A to B. Now wait for them to read and offer feedback.
10. Read/listen to what people have to say about your manuscript. Re-read your manuscript, keeping in mind what they said. Fix everything you can. Send it to more people and/or put it back in your drawer again to let it mature.
11. Repeat step 10 until you can’t think of anything else to change.
12. Recall the books you read in step 1. Research their agents.
13. Write a query letter, using a revised version of the sentence you wrote in step 2 as your hook.
14. Write a synopsis, using a revised version of the one you wrote in step 3 as a jumping-off point.
15. Reread your manuscript one last time. If you’re satisfied, query the agents you found in step 12. Read their guidelines. Follow directions. Be normal. Use normal fonts. Don’t be an jerk.
17. Get a bunch of rejections. These people haven’t read your manuscript, so don’t take it personally. They might not be taking on new clients. They could have signed something just like it. etc
18. Get a request for a partial manuscript. Format it correctly. (the internet will tell you how.) Send them your partial.
And from here, it’s basically not about writing anymore. It’s about business.