HER OCEAN GRAVE is my 18th published mystery/thriller novel, and I have two more coming out in the next year. I also have spent a long time as a journalist – working as an editor at the New York Post, New York Daily News and NBC News. But even when I was working 10-12 hour days in a newsroom, I still churned out my books. A lot of people have asked me how I did it.
So here’s my advice – five key pieces of advice – for beginning writers that I’ve learned over the years:
WRITE WHAT YOU WANT: The best part about writing fiction is that there are no rules. You can do anything you want. So do it! Write the kind of book you want to write, not what other people tell you to write.
One of the things I never understand is writers who say they’re making changes in their books because of feedback from their “beta readers.” Beta readers? Who are these people and why would you think their opinion on your book is more important than your own? If they had some kind of special insight on good writing, then they should write their own book. Sorry, but that’s something I feel very strongly about.
A novel is a very personal thing for me. Look, I seek feedback from a few people – my agent, my editor – whose professional opinion I trust. But the bottom line is it’s my book, no one else’s. What I try to do is write a book that I would want to read – and hope that other people will feel the same way.
WRITE EVERY DAY: I can’t overemphasize how important this rule is to follow. Don’t wait until you’re in the mood to write. Don’t wait until you’re feeling creative to write. Don’t let other things take priority over your writing. Just sit down every day – preferably at approximately the same time – for an hour, two hours or whatever you decide to spend on your writing that day. Even if you’re staring at a blank page or computer screen. Something will come to you. It might be a page or ten pages, doesn’t matter.
Raymond Chandler had an interesting take on this once: He used to say a writer needs to set aside a period like this every day where he doesn’t do anything else but sit at his writing desk. “He doesn’t have to write,” Chandler said. “But he can’t do anything else.” Today, that would mean no watching TV, checking your phone for messages or surfing the internet. “Two simple rules,” Chandler said. “A) You don’t have to write. B) You can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.” Now that’s good advice!
WRITE WHERE YOU WANT: A lot of people like to write in a quiet room with no distractions. Or in a library, for the same reason. Me, I’m the exact opposite. I like to write with a lot of people and noise around me. Maybe that’s because I spent so much time as a journalist working in chaotic newsrooms, but I need that energy to inspire me as I write. I write in coffee shops, bars, at the beach and even on the New York City subway. Best-selling thriller author Scott Turow wrote his first blockbuster book Presumed Innocent on a commuter train going back and forth to work for his job as a lawyer in Chicago. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter where you write – the best location is whatever works best for you.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW – AND DON’T OVERTHINK IT: I’ve worked in newsrooms for many years, and most of my books have been set in newsroom. I live in New York City and I usually write about New York City. I spend my summer vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, and my new thriller HER OCEAN GRAVE takes place in Martha’s Vineyard. See how nice that all works out.
Seriously, I like writing about things I’m familiar with. Sure, you can do a lot of research, but I think writing from personal knowledge is more effective. And even if you don’t know everything about a topic, you probably know enough. When I wrote my first mystery series, it was set in a TV station newsroom. I had never worked in a TV station newsroom at that point, but I had worked it a newsroom at the New York Post. So I was able to pull it off. “Belsky really knows how a TV news operation works,” one reviewer said. So much for extensive research.
One more thing: Don’t overthink things too much. Crime novels are based on fiction, not facts. I mean one of the most successful fictional detectives ever is Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote fame. According to one count, she’s been involved in 274 murders in the town of Cabot Cove, which has a population of 3500. That statistic would not survive too much fact-checking in real life.
DON’T GIVE UP: Almost all the great writers – from Ernest Hemingway to Stephen King – have had their works rejected. You have to pull yourself together, forget about your wounded pride and try again. One of best-selling author James Lee Burke’s books received 111 rejections over nine years before making it into print. That book, The Lost Get-Back Boogie, was later nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Steve Berry is a New York Times best-selling author of international thrillers who has sold millions of books. But it took him 12 years of writing and 85 rejections to publish his first one. My first novel was turned down by more than 20 publishers before it was bought. And then – after it came out – the book received rave reviews from places like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Go figure.
And now it’s time for you to stop reading….and get back to your writing!
(c) Dana Perry
About Her Ocean Grave:
Over the cliff edge, she sees a broken body on the jutting rocks below, the waves crashing all around. She can’t see the girl’s face, which is covered by her long, brown hair. But she knows her. She met her just yesterday…
When Samantha Claymore doesn’t return home after an afternoon bicycle ride on Martha’s Vineyard, Detective Abby Pearce acts immediately. She knows from experience how quickly a lost girl can become a tragedy. Back on the island for the first time since she ran away as a teenager, Abby hopes solving Samantha’s case will make up for her past mistakes… But, as the media swarm and Samantha’s grieving mother joins the search, the police find no trace of the beloved sixteen-year-old—even when a reward is offered for her return.
Trawling through old case files, Abby discovers that Samantha is not the only girl to have gone missing in the small community of Martha’s Vineyard. She’s convinced more could follow, but her team insists there’s no link to be found. Until Samantha’s best friend is found dead at the bottom of a cliff the next day…
After searching Samantha’s bedroom and trawling through the files on her computer, Abby digs into the death of Samantha’s father five years ago at sea, following the trail to one of the island’s most powerful families. The same people who failed to protect Abby the night she was forced to leave as a young girl. Is there anyone left on this quiet island who Abby can trust? Can she find Samantha before more innocent lives are taken?
An absolutely unputdownable and nail-biting crime thriller that will have you racing through the pages. Perfect for fans of Lisa Regan, Kendra Elliot and Gregg Olsen.
Order your copy online here.