This was posed to me last night, and a totally legit question. I know that many non writers often wonder, because maybe they'd like to try their hand at it because they have an idea that's been nagging at their brain for some time. If they have that much, that's good because of course a book has to start with an idea.
An idea can come from anywhere. They have come to me from big events in my life and fleeting moments, newspaper articles and simple phrases. Sometimes the ideas are big and sometimes all I have is an opening line, a character or a title and I have to work from there.
Once you have your idea, you can either outline it or just start writing. I tend to do the latter. I just write until I can't write anymore. I"m called a "panster" because I write by the seat of my pants. This is the first draft of my novel.
By this point, many people who start writing a book have already given up. You have to be determined, motivated, and diligent to stick with writing a book from beginning to end. It's not easy. Things will get in your way -- job, kids, time, life in general. If you really want it, and really think you have a story to tell, stick with it.
In the second draft I deal with the sticky parts. Usually the sticky parts for me are the details, developing characters and places, figuring out the storyline in what us writers call the "murky middle" and well, *cough* the plot. I have to make sure I actually have one. I've had to at this point add characters into the book, cut thousands of words and add 10s of thousands of words.
Then there are usually a couple more drafts.
For me, editing comes next. I have a couple friends who I think are great editors. their work (editors can be wrong too you know, plus, they're all proper and shit and sometimes you don't want to be proper and shit).
Next step is to get Beta Readers. These are a group of people to read your manuscript and give feedback. I like to choose a variety of people. My editor friends give me feedback as well, so they kind of count. I gather up a couple writer friends who can usually give me an idea about the plot, storyline and character development. Then I grab a couple people who are strictly readers who give me a blanket idea of how the book worked. Did they like the story? The characters? Were there any problems? If so, what were they? Were there any questions left unanswered?
I do another rewrite based on the information I've gathered from my Betas. Now, keep in mind, your Betas are giving you opinion and you may not agree. Change what you feel needs changing and toss the rest away. However, if they're all saying the same thing, you should probably listen. When I had Betas read my last book, Dissected, none of them liked my protagonist. So in my rewrite I had to make her more sympathetic and likeable.
After the rewrite I'll give it back to at least one editor for copy editing again. With all those new words in there, there are bound to be grammatical and punctuation errors.
This is just the basics. You should also brush up on writing tips, like don't use too many adverbs, exclamation points or ellipses...crap like that. There are a ton of great books on writing out there and of course, the almighty Google.
What is your process? Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to leave them. I try to respond to every one.