After having ten novels published in seven years, Australian author, Fiona McCallum, reveals the drive, passion and routines that are behind her success… Her most recent novel is Making Peace – read our review here.
Words || Fiona McCallum
I write what I know. There’s much debate over this in writing circles, but it works for me. My “heart-warming journey-of-self-discovery stories” are in essence my own story of finding my strength and independence, what makes my heart sing and having the courage to chase my dreams despite plenty of set-backs. I’ve been blessed with some serious lows, upheavals and traumas in my life – I say blessed because I now have so many experiences and deep emotions on which to draw for my writing.
When I was finally offered a contract after almost a decade of rejections, I had four manuscripts ready to go. I had written and honed until I had satisfied my perfectionist nature and could no longer ignore the next story demanding to be told – though I tend to never do less than five drafts. When my first novel, Paycheque, became an ‘instant bestseller’ there was great value in being able to capitalise on the momentum by being able to release my second, Nowhere Else, just seven months later. For me, it’s important to keep moving forward. Thankfully I’m blessed with a lot of ideas and great passion and drive.
It’s through being disciplined and having a well-honed, strict routine that I can complete each manuscript, and before deadline. I’m a morning person so after getting up and dressed, having breakfast etc, I return to bed and write by hand – starting at eight and ending at noon. (Yes, I’ve had plenty of people exclaim that my method is unproductive – but never from a successful published author …) In the afternoons I type up my work – and then deal with emails and any other aspects of the business of being an author. I tend to work five or six days a week and I only use Microsoft Word for my novels. I understand some writers use certain computer programs to assist them, but I’ve never felt the need.
Also really important to my overall productivity, and the ultimate success of each story, for me is a strong reliance on my intuition and a certain level of confidence. The only way I can write page after page and keep moving through a story is by having a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t in terms of story structure, points of view, character arc etc. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in Professional Writing and Editing and History, which has given me a great grounding in craft through introducing me to different types of writing and authors I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. My history studies, in particular, helped me develop excellent analytical skills, which I think are also really valuable. I’m on the fence about whether an aspiring writer needs a writing (or other) degree or not to be successful – it’s certainly holding me in good stead.
There are plenty of short courses, too, for studying the craft. How-to books are also a great way to get started – and borrowing from your local library is free. Here are my favourites that I’ve returned to many times over the years: Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, Robert McKee’s Story – Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction and James N. Frey’s How to Write Damn Good Fiction.
So, on that note, I wish you all happy writing!