This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Kelly Braffet, author of the new thriller Save Yourself and daughter-in-law of horror writer Stephen King, is with us this afternoon to talk about her writing process and tips for budding authors. Grab a cuppa and have a read.
Well, unfortunately I’m one of those people whose brain doesn’t function very well before noon, so I usually spend the mornings drinking coffee and running (not at the same time, of course), and doing exciting things like laundry. In the afternoons, after the coffee has kicked in, I spend about four hours working, which can mean anything from research to social media to good, old fashioned words on the page. Everybody’s process is different, but I find that for me, so much of writing – particularly in the early stages of a project, which is where I am now – happens off the page, letting my mind wander and making plans.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
Not intentionally. Sometimes I’ll lift a useful detail from somebody’s life – most often my own, frankly – but I also tend to set books in worlds that I know or have access to. For instance, in my second novel, Last Seen Leaving, I wrote about a character who was a pilot in the eighties; my father was a pilot in the eighties, so I had a ready source of information in him. I’m not sure it would work for me to base a character on a real person; I’m always very impressed by people who can write historical fiction, because for me, I know that inevitably the character would start to morph to fit the story I was trying to tell.I’ve never set out to model a character after somebody famous, but there have been a few times when I’ve seen an actor and realized that they fit my image of a character perfectly. Jude Law from The Talented Mr. Ripley is a dead ringer for Jack Raeburn from Fabulous Things. And I think Emmy Rossum would make a terrific Caro.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Oh, what a cruel question! There are so many fabulous and underappreciated women writers out there, and have been through the ages. Doris Lessing, Patricia Highsmith, Dorothy Sayers, Zelda Fitzgerald, Flannery O’Connor – all amazing. On the modern side, I love Donna Tartt, Megan Abbott, Jennifer Egan, and so many more. I think right now the book I’m most impressed by is actually an old one, but relatively new to me: Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle. I read it last month for the first time and am going to re-read it next month, I think. It’s a masterpiece.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Every novel I’ve written has been written under such different circumstances that it’s really hard to say. My first novel was written in evenings and on weekends while I was working profoundly unfulfilling full-time jobs, and I had no expectation that I was actually going to get published; that one took me about five years. My second was under contract before I wrote it, and took me about eight months, because I was living in the wilds of Maine with literally nothing else to do. Save Yourself took five years again – years in which lots of other things happened, marriage and parenthood and so forth – and it was by far the most difficult of the three. I’m still kicking around ideas for my fourth novel, but once again the situation is different. So who knows what’ll happen? I will say that with Save Yourself, more than the other two, I did a lot of planning ahead. I don’t do formal outlines, but I will sort of free-write my way through the next few chapters. I call it my book journal – it’s very stream-of-consciousness, everything from facts I want to use to random ideas for plot points to 'Okay, this isn’t working, how can I fix it?' And I do endless drafts. Eight to ten, usually.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I got my masters in fiction writing from Columbia University in New York, and while I was there I discovered that a) I’m a terrible networker and b) I’m good at making friends who are better networkers than I am. One of those friends, the novelist Lauren Grodstein, introduced me to her agent, who – many years later – became my agent. Of the three agents I submitted my first novel to, she was the only one who said yes. Of the twenty publishers she submitted that book to, only one said yes. As she said at the time, and as I’ve told myself a million times since then, it only takes one yes.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Well, I think the biggest myth by far is that it’s easy to get rich doing it; it’s not. Breakout success happens for so few books, no matter how well or poorly written they are, which is why those stories, the big sales and surprise successes, always make the news. I think the other myths are that it’s easy – it’s a craft like anything else, and it takes time to learn to do it well – or that it’s magic. My eyes roll back into my head every time I hear somebody talk about how they’re just a conduit for the muse, and the stories flow through them, etc. I know what they mean, but it’s not magic. It’s work.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Read! Read everything! Read the good, the bad and the indifferent, and think about why you’ve reacted to it the way you have. Keep a journal; if you’re practiced in describing your own life and your own emotions, you’ll develop a better sense for how to describe the lives and emotions of your characters. Give yourself a steady supply of fresh input: read, watch, and do new things. Once you start a novel, resist the urge to endlessly revise that first chapter until it’s perfect. Push forward and get the whole story down, no matter how messy it feels. A perfectly polished first chapter won’t do you any good if you’ve got nothing else.
And, finally, buy as many books as you can afford to buy, and if you’re lucky enough to still have an independent bookstore near you, buy them there. The more independent bookstores and publishers manage to survive, the more diverse the literary possibilities will be. Be a mindful consumer, and support the industry you want to be a part of.
What are you working on at the moment?
What I’d really like to do next is write a book about Caro Haller, one of the characters from Save Yourself. She’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, and I feel like she has a lot to say. I must admit, though, I haven’t quite figured out whether I want to write about her life before Save Yourself or her life after. It might end up being both.