This is an online book by Crawford Killian.
Altogether I'll be sending 17 separate ``handouts'' from my commercial
fiction course. They range from good work habits to the reading of contracts.
Please--don't read them as divine revelation. They come out of my experience,
which may not be anything like yours or that of other writers. But if they save
you some time, energy and grief, I'll be glad.
The files total about 180K--enough for a short book. I'll number each one as
Fiction Advice plus a number and keyword. If you miss some of them, I'll
try to post them directly, but sometimes people's addresses don't make
sense to my computer...
Why am I doing this? Well, a year or so ago someone e-mailed me with that
very question. I thought for a minute and then replied to this effect: When
you're young, and you think you have the talent, you wonder how you can make the
talent serve you. When you're older, you wonder how you can serve the talent.
This is some small part of my service. God bless, work hard, write honestly,
take pride in your craft!
North Vancouver, BC Canada V7G 1H7
Writing habits flourish best in routine, but the efficient writer also
Routine: Set aside some time every day when you can work undisturbed for an
hour or two--first thing in the morning, during lunch, after dinner, whenever
you can set aside other demands. Ideally, it's the same time of day. Your family
and friends will soon build their routines around yours. With luck, they will
resent your unscheduled appearances during your writing time, and will send you
packing back to your desk.
Keep your writing equipment (paper, pens, software manuals, etc.) in your
writing place, close at hand. Minimize distractions like interesting new
magazines and books. Try to find a writing time when few people phone or visit.
If a cup of coffee and some background music make you feel less lonely, by all
means enjoy them.
Use household chores as thinking time: a chance to review what you've done so
far and to consider where your writing should go next. Walking the dog or
vacuuming the carpet can provide more ideas than you expect. This is really just
``controlled daydreaming,'' letting your mind freewheel in a particular
direction: What the heroine should do in the next chapter, how the hero would
respond to escaping a car bomb, how the villain developed his evil character.
But the process doesn't seem to work if you just sit and stare at the wall. You
need to be up and moving in some automatic pattern.
Don't lean on others for editorial advice and encouragement--least of all
people you're emotionally involved with. Spouses, friends and roommates rarely
have both editorial perceptiveness and the tact to express it without
infuriating you or breaking your heart. Empty praise will get you nowhere;
unconstructive criticism can destroy your novel in an instant.
Instead, be your own editor: set aside regular times to write yourself
letters discussing your own work, articulating what's good and less good in it.
In the process you'll easily solve problems that could otherwise grow into
full-blown writer's block. On a computer, the letters can form a continuous
journal, recording your reactions to the evolving work. Checking back to the
first journal entries can help keep you on track--or dramatically show how far
you've moved from your original concept.
Writing a letter to yourself is especially helpful if you're beginning to
have anxieties about the story. Sometimes we try to suppress those anxieties,
which only makes them worse. Anxiety turns to frustration and despair, and
finally we abandon the whole project. If you can actually write down what
bothers you about your heroine, or your plot, or whatever, the answer to the
problem often suggests itself. The act of turning our chaotic thoughts into
orderly sentences seems to lead to much quicker and more satisfying solutions.
In addition to these self-addressed letters, keep a daily log of your
progress. Word processors with word-count functions are powerful encouragers.
The log can give you a sense of accomplishment, especially on big projects, and
can enable you to set realistic completion deadlines. For example, if you know
you can write 500 words in an hour, and you write three hours a week, you can
have a completed novel manuscript of 75,000 words in 50 weeks. If you write ten
hours a week, the ms. will be complete in 15 weeks.
Compile a ``project bible.'' This is a list of facts, names, and so on that
you expect to be using for constant reference. If you have some important
research findings you plan to use, put them in the bible along with their
sources. Include lists of characters' names (with descriptions, so their eyes
don't change color), unusual words or spellings, etc. The best format for this
bible may be a looseleaf binder you can carry with you. (A word of caution: If
your bible gets too big to carry easily, you're defeating its purpose.)
Opportunity: If you decide you ``can't write'' unless you're seated at your
Gigabyte II computer with Mozart on the stereo and no one else in the house,
you're just making life harder for yourself. Your ordinary domestic routine will
always contain ``dead time''--periods when you're away from home (or at least
away from your workplace) with no other task at hand. You might be waiting in a
doctor's office, on a bus, or trapped in a large, dull meeting. Use that dead
time constructively by carrying your notebook bible in which you can record at
least a few lines of a rough draft. Or you might jot down some background notes
about your project, or a self-editing idea that's just occurred to you. You can
then use these when you're back at your desk producing finished text.
These are general habits that will help you at all stages of the
novel-writing process. But you may also find that you need to understand those
stages and adapt your habits to each of them. You may not do yourself any good
if you plunge into the writing phase before you've worked out a decent outline.
So let's take a look at the stages of the novel-writing process, and then
consider some techniques to maximize your efficiency in each of them.