How to Write Your First Novel: 6 Pieces of Advice

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.
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I’m no stranger to book writing, having written 28 cookbooks -- but Island Apart is my first novel and writing it posed all sorts of challenges. During much of the process, I felt like a raw beginner. Hell, during much of the process I was a raw beginner. Here are 6 techniques that helped me go from aspiring novelist to published novelist.

GIVEAWAY: Steven is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: rampmg won.)

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Steve Raichlen is the author of ISLAND APART, a debut novel
(June 2012, Forge Books) set on Chappaquiddick Island in Martha's
Vineyard. Booklist said of the book, "A sweet grown-up love story ...
Raichlen packs a lot into his first novel … the passages of locally
harvested food and intense cooking are gorgeous ... A beach book
for smart people." Before this novel, Raichlen was a New York Times
best-selling author of several cookbooks. Visit his author website here.

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.

(What a movie can teach writers about how to start a story strong.)

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.

(Agents get specific and explain what kind of stories they're looking for.)

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.

GIVEAWAY: Steven is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: rampmg won.)

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