Outlines are a must, but I like to also write a paragraph or two from each section, just to get a feel for what that part of the story will sound like. (I'm not the type of writer you are looking for, though. I stick to short stories, but I think the concept could still be applied.)
Another thing I like to do is once I am working on smaller details (after the outline), try using notecards for ordering information. Character info, setting, and such doesn't have to be stated in any particular order, and using notecards allows you to easily change the order and see what the story would look like presented that way. I used this method in my ongoing attempt at a novella and it really helped me avoid those dreaded sections that are just bombarding the reader with millions of details about how the character or location looks. This also helps you figure out what your character is like in greater detail. My English teachers always said that you need to know every single aspect of your main character(s), even if it isn't in the story, and this trick helped me a TON.
Good luck! I hope the world of writing welcomes you well!
PS: If you want to have fun with a challenge, try NaNoWriMo in November. One month, 50,000 words, one novel. Write it. ;D Funfunfun!