Getting the initial idea for my current novel was quick and ferocious - I was instantly flooded with the image of two characters and then a story world built itself around them. I knew what their lives were like and the issues they were experiencing within it, and soon certain, distinct personality traits began to form. However, the problem was that I only saw these characters live out their stories for about 5 chapter's worth of a novel. After that, things went dark and I didn't really know where the plot was going, who else would be involved, what their main obstacles would be, and how they would overcome them.
When I got the initial idea for this novel I sped over to my laptop and started writing. As someone who is not a pantser, but would like to think she is, I spent time on 5 chapters and they have been sitting on my laptop for 2 years, untouched. I would not recommend doing what I did because now I'm having to start all over again, saving only a few paragraphs from those chapters for the actual manuscript. I won't say it felt like a waste of time, but I quickly lost motivation and inspiration after I had written a few pages because I had no idea where the story was going.
To really get those creative juices flowing and come up with a solid story that will keep readers (and yourself!) captivated, then you have to start with an outline. As discussed in Writing Fiction for Dummies, your outline doesn't have to be incredibly detailed - down to every move the characters make - but it should allow you to follow the 3-act structure logically and base a skeleton of a story off of it. Ever since buying Scrivener, my inspiration and motivation has hit an all-time high because of how organized you can be on the program.
Some people might be like me and thrive off of structure and direction, others might like to just go with the flow and let the story come to them as they write. Whatever your process, you will need to create a story outline (whether physical or mental) that your novel will adhere to as you get deeper and deeper into the plot. And that's a good thing! It might seem like an extra, unnecessary step, but your outline can be bent and moulded to fit you and your methods perfectly. And, by spending a few days or weeks preparing it you'll be saved a few headaches and a lot of writer's block down the line.
How do you outline your novel?