Blog # 6: Three More Lessons I Learned Writing Island Apart
Island Apart is my first novel and I certainly learned a lot—and learned the hard way—writing it. Some might call it a learning curve. I’m inclined to say “baptism by fire.” Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be writing about some of the techniques and lessons I learned writing Island Apart.
Lesson 4: Your cherished title may not wind up on the cover of the final book.
Initially, I called my book The Hermit of Chappaquiddick (the name of my male protagonist). I thought it was a brilliant title: the mysterious qualities of “hermit”; the political controversy surrounding the Kennedy tragedy at Chappaquiddick’s Dyke Bridge; the sense of loneliness and melancholy when you put the two together. To which my veteran editor, Bob Gleason, replied that this was the worst title he had heard in forty years of publishing. After much back and forth, we settled on “Island Apart,” which is what “Chappaquiddick” means in the language of the island’s first settlers, the Wampanoags. Seventy-five million baby boomers may have strong associations with Chappaquiddick, but an equal number of Gen-Xers, Millennials, and other young people give you a blank look when you mention it. Much as I hate to admit it, Island Apart works better.
Lesson 5: Write in the active voice. In my first draft I used a lot of passive constructions—“it must be said,” for example, or “if the truth be told” or “the Hermit was seen walking down Litchfield Road.” Rewriting the story in the active voice gave the novel a lot more energy and power. Similarly, in real life, people may declare, opine, state, explain, cry, laugh, or chortle. Characters say or ask. Anything more than “he said” or “she asked” is distracting.
Lesson 6: Be extra nice to your spouse or significant other. The deeper you get into the story, the more you’ll withdraw from everyday life. Your spouse will miss you and complain that you seem absent—even when you’re sitting together the dinner table. Your significant other may get jealous. When you write a novel, you need all the help and support you can get from your loved ones. Make sure you love them back.
Are you writing a novel? What lessons have you learned in the process? What do still need to learn to push you over the finish line?