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My Five Tenets of Novel Writing

By Dina Santorelli

Anyone can start writing a novel. But anyone can’t finish one. It takes a lot of work, determination, commitment and guts. Every Sunday, I offer writing tips on my blog, Making ‘Baby Grand,’ lessons I learned on the road to publication for my first novel, Baby Grand. But if I were to select five of the most crucial tenets of novel writing—the five “musts” of getting it done—they would be the following:

  1. You must make time to write. If you’re going to treat this book as a hobby or something you’ll get to “one of these days,” trust me, it’s never going to get written. You need to take your novel off the back burner of your life and make it a focal point, just as you would anything else that’s important to you. Does this mean that you may lose sleep in order to work on your novel? Spend less time with your family? Miss some outings with friends? Yes, yes, and yes. And you should, if working on your novel is important to you. So create a schedule that meets your needs. I wrote 1,000 words a day to finish Baby Grand and am now doing the same as I finish my second novel, In the Red. That works for me, allowing me to feel like I accomplished enough writing for the day while allowing me to spend time with my family. For you, it might be 500 words a day, or maybe just one hour a day. Whatever schedule you create, stick to it. No excuses.
  2. You must know that it’s going to be hard. Self-doubt will plague you every step of the way. Every. Step. I can’t do this. I’m a horrible writer. What was I thinking? It’s awful, but you have to fight through it and keep in mind that it happens to all of us. No matter how awful you think your writing is or your book is going to be in the end, just keep going anyway. You’ll be glad you did. As I like to say, “Bad writing is better than no writing.” Bad writing you can fix. No writing is just no writing.
  3. You must believe in your vision and not worry about your audience. I’ve come across people who tell me they’d love to write, but they don’t think anyone would find what they have to say interesting. I ask them if they find it interesting. And if the answer is yes (it always is), I tell them to write it. Because if they write it with passion, I’ll want to read it. If you write about what drives you, what makes you laugh, what’s meaningful to you, that’s what makes compelling reading. And you won’t have to worry about finding an audience. Your audience will find you.
  4. You must read, read, read. As often as you can. Particularly the genres that you like to write. Reading will expose you to all sorts of styles and opinions, will open your mind and your heart, will make you more knowledgeable, inform your sensibilities and help you find your place in the literary cosmos. In short, it will make you a better writer. Case closed.
  5. You must never give up. If you want to be a writer — I mean, really want to be a writer — you should never give up. When I advise aspiring writers that they should never quit and never take no for an answer, I always think of my husband — my level-headed, pragmatic husband — who has said, “Dina, be serious, you can believe and believe and believe, but, the truth is, not everyone is going to become a successful novelist.” My answer to that? Well, somebody will. And who’s to say it won’t be him? Or her? Or me?

Dina Santorelli is a freelance writer/editor who has written for many print and online publications, such as Newsday, First for Women and CNNMoney.com. She served as the “with” writer for Good Girls Don’t Get Fat (Harlequin, 2010) and most recently contributed to Bully (Weinstein Books, September 2012), a companion book to the acclaimed film. Dina is the current Executive Editor of Salute and Family magazines for which she has interviewed many celebrities, including James Gandolfini, Tim McGraw, Angela Bassett, Mario Lopez, Gary Sinise and Kevin Bacon. You can follow Dina on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and on her blog. Baby Grand, her first novel, is available on Amazon.

In Albany, New York, the governor’s infant daughter disappears without a trace from her crib at the Executive Mansion. Hours later, newly divorced and down-and-out writer Jamie Carter is abducted from the streets of Manhattan. Jamie is whisked upstate, where she is forced by her captor, Don Bailino, an ex-war hero/successful businessman, to care for the kidnapped child in a plot to delay the execution of mobster Gino Cataldi – the sixth man to be put to death in six years by hardliner Governor Phillip Grand. What prevails is a modern-day thriller about family ties, loyalty, murder, betrayal, and love that’s told in deftly interweaving narratives that follow the police investigation of the missing Baby Grand, the bad guys who took her, and the woman who found the strength to protect her.

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I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen someone write “Writing is the easy part.”

It used to offend me. In the middle of writing a novel you feel that you are doing the hardest thing you could possibly do – crafting a story, weaving the plot, developing the characters… all with the goal of bringing an engaging, entertaining story to the reader. It takes months of writing, editing, and rewriting. Along the way some of your favorite parts face the chopping block.

That’s darn hard at times, especially when you have both a family and a paying job demanding large portions of your time. To me, the phrase “Writing is the easy part” belittles that accomplishment.

Last Friday I was finally able to call my first novel done. It was prepared. It was baked. It was poked and prodded. It was iced. CAKE NOVEL, ready for consumption.

I had a brief moment of ‘what now’, and then I felt lost. What do I do now? It’s out there, like a child that’s left the house, and it’s not my baby any more. I’m no longer looking for typos, polishing scenes, or worrying about formatting.

Of course that moment quickly passed because the biggest challenge for a new writer is obscurity. New adventures are just beginning to arise as I work to amend that problem.

Suddenly “Writing is the easy part” takes on new meaning. The writing, in large measure, comes naturally to me. In that respect it is easy. It’s an accomplishment and it takes a lot of time, but it is also enjoyable. I now stand at the crossroads where I must do many things that do not come naturally, especially marketing a story I like. Marketing is almost a dirty word; it is entirely against my nature.

I have seen writers belittle, bemoan, and grouse about this part. You don’t get paid for it. It’s not as much fun. It takes away from the writing.

My responses:

Sure. So?

Readers have earned this part. They bought the book. Hopefully they enjoyed it. If you’re fortunate they even became a fan, eagerly awaiting your next work. The tweets where I say “Thank You for Following”, the interviews, the guest posts, the contests – the fans deserve that part of your time. Doing nothing but writing your next piece is to tell the reader – Love it or leave it, as long as you buy it. I will give you nothing more of myself.

I stand here at that crossroads with hope and the commitment to give the reader a good story and pieces of myself along the way.

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I have made the switch – bye bye Blogger, hello WordPress. I love the clean look here, the ability to have pages with real links, the ease of use with widgets….

Hopefully it will make life easier. I’m not done tweaking (definitely want my own picture on the top) but I’m liking it!

I plan to update more frequently, moving forward. I have been swamped with forcing myself to edit (not my favorite thing), getting the various publishes done, actual paid day-job work, and the all important summer activity – swimming!

The book is out on Amazon and Smashwords. B&N is taking it’s own sweet, slow-as-molasses time, and the print version is nearly completed. Links for all soon to come. Two available at the BOOKS tab at the top of the page.

Book two is getting an outline and I will start actual words this week. I’m very excited to continue the story begun in book one.

The adage “writing is the easy part” is so true, now that the book is complete. It’s such a heady feeling to have it out there and available but that’s only one small part of the story. The books will persist forever, available for all to read, and hopefully fond memories for those who do. The challenge, however, is in getting each person to make that decision – to trust you, the writer, to spark their imagination, to entertain them, to make them think, to make them want more.

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