First off - all this advice is based on personal experience and what worked for me (bear in mind I haven't actually finished editing my novel yet but I did finish writing the 100,000 word first draft - something I'd failed to do before) and advice I've read in books, found on the internet and been told by other people.
If you don't have a plot yet - or if you're not sure that your plot works - you could do worse than visit this site:
Before I started writing my novel I spent a lot of time reading the above site.
I also spent time thinking about 'The Hero's Journey' which is a classic way of structuring a novel (used most famously in the Star Wars films). It may sound archaic at first but it works perfectly well in a modern setting with a bit of imagination and if you're a bit stuck it's a tried and tested approach and might help you move on. Here's a basic breakdown of the Hero's journey:
1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails
3. Achieving the goal which often results in important self-knowledge
4. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail
5. Application of the goal, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world
You can read more about the Hero's journey here:
What I did next was grab a piece of paper and divided it into chapters (I decided on 16 but my novel ended up being 30!). I had no idea how many chapters my novel would have so just guessed. What I did know were what the major events were in the novel - what the beginning was (and how the novel would progress for several chapters), what the end was and what the major climax was. I scribbled these into some of the chapter boxes on the page.
What was left was lots of gaps...
So what next?
I had to work out how my main character would get from A to Z - what trials would she encounter along the way, what would go wrong, how would she develop/change, what were the other characters in the novel doing? I scribbled down as many ideas as I could think of into the boxes.
And I started writing.
Of course, as I started writing the novel, things changed as I pretty much let the character dictate what was going to happen next (within reason) as long as she was pretty much moving towards achieving her goal, overcoming obstacles en route and moving towards the climax and the end of the book. I wrote so many different versions of my chapter outline my notebook is full of them!
If I got stuck (blocked) I'd sit down and sketch out the scenes that were needed within the chapter. That way I knew what was coming next and could continue writing.
I wrote pretty much every day for 3 months and 3 weeks (I think my average word count was about 750 words a day - which isn't that much when you think about it).
The best advice I can give when you want to stop writing or you think the novel is going no where is
"I give myself permission to write crap"
It's your first draft. First drafts are allowed to be crap. In fact I'd bet money on the fact that every author thinks their first draft is crap. When you buy a book in Waterstones or wherever and marvel at the language and the plot I guarantee it didn't just flow out of the writer's pen/fingers in that state. The author revised and revised it. Their agent probably made them revise it again and then their editor suggested several more re-writes before the book was proof-read, corrected and published.
If you don't finish your first draft you won't have anything to edit. So just write it... no one else has to see it. Do it for yourself, do it to prove you can write and finish a novel. Don't think about whether what you're writing is any good. Don't wonder if an agent will like it. Don't try and work out if it will become a bestseller. If you do that you'll become so self-conscious you'll stop writing. So just write it and finish it.
It's bloody hard work and everyone who has every written a first draft of a novel will agree. But how chuffed will you be when you get through to the other side and you've finished it? I drank the best part of a bottle of champagne to myself!
Of course there's still loads to do (and God editing is boring) but don't think about that now. Write.
Okay - this is the world's longest post so I'm just going to end by recommending some books that might help:
See Jane Write - a "how to write chick lit" book. Most of the information in here I'd seen before in other more literary "how to write a novel" books (and covered in more detail) but if you want a light, chatty approach to writing a novel this is the one for you [Edited to add: I've just noticed they're out of stock on Amazon.co.uk but they seem to have plenty left on Amazon.com for about a fiver - See Jane Write: A Girl's Guide to Writing Chick Lit so try them instead]
My personal favourite: How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-By-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling
And this one is very, very good and is also recommended by fellow novel racers Solutions for Writers: Practical Craft Techniques for Fiction and Non-fiction
Okay - next time. How long should a synopsis be? How do I write a synopsis? and "Is my novel any good?"