Here are the basic steps I take when writing a story:
1. I read as many award-winning and best-selling books as I possibly can.
2. I read books on the craft of novel writing, and especially before I begin writing a new story, I read a NEW book on the craft that I've not read before. This really helps refresh my brain on the skills and techniques involved in great writing. Usually while I'm reading, my brain will spark with character and plot ideas for my next manuscript.
3. BEFORE I write the story, I write a query letter, or an elevator pitch, or a quick summary ... this makes writing the manuscript easier. First of all, by writing out the pitch, I can make sure the idea is going to work and then stay on track. I even pass that pitch on to my beta readers and critique partners to get their feedback. It's amazing what kind of plot problems people can pick out just from your short pitch.
4. Once I've polished the idea, then I use Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet, from his fabulous book SAVE THE CAT, to rough out the big ideas of my plot. Then I outline the main points of my story to work out problems ahead of time and save effort later.
5. Character development exercises help me get to know my characters better before I start writing. I utilize a character chart and ask my characters questions to make them as fully developed as possible.
6. Then I jump in and write the first draft. I *try* to finish the first draft without revising and editing; otherwise (because I'm such a perfectionist) I would be stuck forever polishing the first chapter.
7. Revising is my favorite part. I start with the overall big ideas and work my way down to the small individual word choices. I believe every word needs to move the plot forward or develop a character. If the word, sentence, paragraph, scene, or chapter doesn't do one of these two things, then it either needs to be cut or seriously revised for improvement.
8. While I'm in the revision stage, I will send chapters off to my awesome critique partners. They lovingly rip my work to shreds, and then I revise it again. I prefer to stage my critique partners so that they are not reading the same version. I will usually send a chapter to one critique partner, revise as necessary, and then send it to another partner for new feedback.
9. Once I'm satisfied with the manuscript I will send it to a few beta readers who tend to look at the bigger overall story rather than nit-picky little details. I make necessary improvements based on their feedback.
10. I send the manuscript to my ROCK STAR agent. After she reads it, she sends me an editorial letter with suggestions for improvement. And I revise again (because her suggestions are always spot-on, and I always slap myself in the head and ask, why didn't I see that sooner?)
11. My agent submits my manuscript to editors at publishing houses. If the planets are aligned properly, it sells. Then the editor sends me a new editorial letter, and I revise again (slapping myself in the head again, asking, why did I not see that sooner?!)
12. And then I start the writing process all over again.