I wrote the first draft of my first novel in about six weeks. I worked, up in my dedicated home office, Monday through Friday for two to four hours per day. I averaged something like 2500 words per day. I didn't have any idea where I was going, often thinking of what would happen that day when I was in the shower. The result was a fun time writing, just zoning out and letting the words come, that produced kind of a mess.
I would spend time reading about writing and publishing, and I read a number of times that good novels are authored by people who "know what their novel is about"; who understand what they're trying to accomplish.
I had no idea what mine was about--the scenes and chapters depended on how I felt the day that I wrote them. In a good mood? I'd try to be funny and witty. In a bad mood? I'd write dialog that was so heavy with foul language that nobody would want to read it. On some days I'd write after reading. I was working through Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian at the time, so on those days what I wrote was dark and wordy (and really, really bad, since there was no way I could pull of his style of writing anyway). Some days I'd be bored, and the writing would simply be boring. I really had no consistent voice and, since I hadn't worked out much of the story/characters ahead of time, no guidelines to follow to keep things moving in the right direction. When I was done (at eighty thousand words), there were a few chapters that felt like my own, and that I thought were pretty good, but the rest was kind of a crapshoot.
I did a quick edit, re-reading the whole thing and trying to clean it up to be more consistent, and then I let Jody read it. I was on my way out the door to go on a five day hunting trip when I printed it off, manually hole-punched the pages, and put them in a binder for her. I told her it was nowhere near the best that I could do, but that I was desperate for feedback and direction.
She emailed me the next day, half way through it, to tell me that she liked it. She had feedback, and didn't say that she loved it, but she liked it. She called me "multi-talented". Honestly, no matter what happens in the future, I'll remember how happy that made me feel.
When I got back home, we spent a couple of evenings talking about it, and her feedback gave me lots of new ideas. But we also decided it really needed to be critiqued by a professional. Since I didn't really know how to write, hadn't really been trained at all, it made sense to pay somebody who did to give me some direction. Also, I knew in the end that Jody was going to have a hard time giving me unbiased feedback for fear of hurting my feelings.
I did some research online, and eventually connected with a freelance editor. I emailed her the first couple of chapters, we had a phone discussion about it, and we decided that she would read it and give me high-level feedback on my writing style and the story itself. It would be four more weeks before she would have time to read it, so I sent her a deposit and sat down to edit the book one more time before sending it her way.