1. The world has two sorts of writers: people who talk about writing a novel and people who actually do it. I spent several decades among the former and I have to tell you, it feels great finally to join the ranks of the latter. To paraphrase Nike, stop talking about it and just do it!
2. Write a mission statement … and contract. When I started Island Apart, my mission was to use the skills I had acquired writing food stories and cookbooks over the years; the publishing and media contacts I had accumulated; and the promotional savvy I learned from dozens of book tours (and being married to a publicist—more on that in a future blog) to start, write, and finish a publishable novel within a year. Note the words “start,” “finish,” “publishable,” and “within a year.” These dictated a course of action, goal, and deadline, which made me take the process seriously.
3. The secret to writing a novel—or any book—is writing. You won’t turn out elegant prose every day. But it’s important to keep cranking it out. Bad writing eventually leads to good writing and paragraphs eventually add up to pages, chapters, and a finished novel.
4. There’s no one right way to write a novel. Some writers start with a plot (vague or meticulously planned); others use as their point of departure a phrase, character, situation, or moral dilemma. Some writers craft meticulous outlines before they start writing; others let the characters drive the story. Island Apart began as a title—not that title (more how and why it changed in a future blog). My original title was The Hermit of Chappaquiddick and the minute I had the title, I knew the who of my story (my protagonists) and the what (what would happen). What I didn’t know was how to get from the beginning to the denouement. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make the journey alone—I had the characters to guide me. They knew where they needed to go.
5. Write with your eraser (or delete button). In the course of writing Island Apart, I jettisoned whole characters, situations, and chapters. I probably wrote 1000 pages of manuscript to wind up with a finished book of just under 300 pages. It hurt and I fought every deletion (my wife was a ruthless editor), but the final book is better for all the cuts.
6. Take the time to celebrate the milestones in your writing process. When you finish a chapter, take yourself and significant other out for dinner. When you finish the first draft, uncork a bottle of Champagne. (Not prosecco, real Champagne.) I timed the completion of the first draft to coincide with my birthday. I made a great ceremony of typing the words “The end” just before my birthday dinner. I also took the time to make a sententious speech to my children about the value of setting goals and working hard. I’m sure the latter went in one ear and out the other, but it sure made me feel good.