I have read books on craft. I have attended writer's conferences. I have been part of face-to-face crit groups. I have been (and still am in) on-line crit groups. I have purchased writing aids, lecture notes, experts on tape, post it notes, index cards, workbooks, and highlighters.
And what is the most valuable piece of my writing arsenal when it comes to starting a new novel?
My daughter, Heather! (15 and pictured in front of the bookcases in my office.) I plot my novels out loud with her when I first get started, outlining what needs to happen when, and how to get to the conclusion I want.
Today she helped me with the new novel, tentatively entitled Hope of the North Star. The title might change as I get to know the story better. Heather helped me organize my thoughts, find a subplot, and define the scope of the story. I had a theme and she helped me refine it.
I don't want to write a novel without her!