Having sat with my novel for almost a year, spending hours on end working and reworking the narrative, I found myself completely immersed in a world I had created. This can be a good thing. When the world you create begins to organically develop it can lead to unexpected discoveries. And they can be far more exciting than what you initially envisioned your story's path to be.
But once the story begins to take on a life of its own, it can develop incompatibilities with the original structure the author set in place. A character, for example, can start off being described as meek, but end up mouthing off far too often to be perceived as so by the readers. This will either be taken as negligence in continuity, or the readers will be confused, thinking the author is hinting at something which will soon be explained. And if it isn't, it will piss them off. Royally.
This is why it is immensely important to bring in the perspective of others, preferably the opinions of those unfamiliar with your story. Those critics/editors will be able to swiftly detect incongruencies which the author cannot. The reason is that since the conception of these characters, they have likely changed considerably, but in the author's mind it has become difficult to filter out the attributes which are no longer relevant. An outsider will be able to quickly locate phrases the character would never say and the actions he/she would never take. This serves to not only add credibility to what the author divulges about the characters, but also makes them more real.
The more people review your work, the better. While it would be incredibly fruitful to recruit professional editors in the industry, it may not be s plausible option for many first-time novelists. But do not underestimate the power of subjective opinion. Pick a representative sample and ask them to review your work. Even if your novel is geared towards a female audience, asking the opinions of male readers can be invaluable. After all, beneath all of our superficial differences we are all human. We have hearts that beat, ache, and break.
Once you have compiled critique from various sources you will begin to notice patterns in their commentary. Too many descriptions of the surroundings? Not enough dialogue? Grammatical errors? First chapter is too boring/slow/confusing?
And finally, once you have taken said critique into consideration you will be able to assess the quality of your work more accurately, and hopefully make it even more compelling.
Having spent roughly a decade of my adult life in university I have always felt I've done my share of reading and writing. That is not to say I haven't sporadically enjoyed a great novel or trilogy, but it has always been in the form of passive consumption.
It wasn't until approximately a year ago that I was struck with an idea during an engaging conversation with my good friend. There I was at the verge of something potentially life-changing, and I had no idea what to do with it. My education (though in English) had revolved around Biology, Neuroscience and Architecture; how could those topics possibly be instrumental to writing a fiction Novel? All I had was a rough idea in dire need of development, no plot, and no characters.
So how is it possible that in less than a year I have managed to write a complete trilogy, and about to publish the first volume? (I also did the cover art myself, but I'll thoroughly brag- I mean BLOG about that later.)
If you have been mulling over the idea of writing a book then you must have something to say. And if you are compelled to tell this story of yours, I can guarantee you there will be an eager audience to welcome it with open arms (and wallets). It will be time consuming, and you will get stuck in multiple ruts. You will lose an odd (or even) number of hairs from your head and blame it on your shampoo. You will develop a coffee addiction, and your circadian rhythm will be massacred. You will doubt virtually every aspect of your writing on countless occasions, throw several tantrums, and cry at the foot of your bed with the lights off. But in the end it will be a worthwhile endeavor (I repeatedly tell myself).
First step? Start writing!
It's that simple. Do not worry about structure, theme or characters. Just write whatever comes to mind; whether a narcissistic rant about your current boss's incompetence, a vegan cookie recipe you should burn upon conception, a haiku about bunnies with floppy ears, or an action scene you keep envisioning every time you hear that dub-step remix you incessantly listen to on repeat.
This type of writing is often referred to as Free Fall Writing. It does not concern itself with grammar and editing. It doesn't even need to make sense to anyone else but you. What it is meant to do is extract the writer's inner thoughts and feelings, awakening their subconscious and bringing ideas worth discussing to the surface.
Once you have engaged in this sort of writing soon a pattern emerges. For some authors the theme might always somehow relate to the pursuit of success. For others the theme might be redemption. And some regardless of the topics they write about almost invariably yield humorous material. Free Fall Writing can do wonders in unleashing your inner talents.
And finally once you've found what it is you really want to write about your inherent passion for it will fuel you right to the sweet end. And I will (try to) be there every (sixth or seventh) step of the way to help you with what I've learned on my own through tackling something completely foreign. I am no expert. I'm just someone like you who has already done it.