Originally, I started writing fiction (I’d been writing user manuals and tech specs and travelogues all my life) because my life circumstances changed and I had the opportunity to do it. It was like a creative dam bursting, and the flood of words surprised me. Now that I’m a full-time writer, I write because it is my job and I need to pay the bills.
How did you come to writing?
I think writing is something people do when they’re really good talkers and want to tell stories. When you write, you have a captive audience. You can tell your story even if nobody is in front of you listening. That was the case with me, I wanted to write down my great story, regardless of whether anybody was listening to me at the time.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Definitely my lack of skill in the craft of storytelling – since I’d been doing so much technical writing I had the technical skill, but when it comes to plotting and designing character (and writing clean, fast-moving prose), I had to learn from the basics.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
Motivation is easy: I need to pay the bills and I’ve been self-employed most of my life so self-discipline is part of what I’ve always done. Social media is the great stumbling block, though, as I’m at home by myself writing most of the time I’ll pop onto media to have that sense of being connected to the community even when I’m solitary.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
Since I’m a full-time writer, that’s now incredibly easy. It was very hard at the start, because I’m the most creative, and my best work emerges, very late at night when I’m half-asleep. This makes working full-time (and getting to an office job early in the morning) very problematic! Now that I’m full-time, I spend the daytime doing interviews and social media and revising the work, and then late at night I can let the creative inspiration flow without worrying about having to function in a day job the next day.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I write wherever the inspiration hits me, so I take my laptop everywhere and it’s never far from my side. My work space is just a boring desk in an office in my house, mostly working around the fact that the cats take up a great deal of space on it.
What are your essential writing tools?
I have a small binder that I use to keep track of where the plot is, and to write notes to myself on plot points that need expanding and details that need to be double-checked. Apart from that, if I have my laptop, I’m good to go just about anywhere.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
I was one of the many who believed the popular myth that being a published author means that you’re set for life. I left my IT career to be a full-time Mum, convinced that I would get that great publishing deal in the meantime, and never work in a cubicle again. I should have kept my skills up in IT, because it’s very easy for them to lapse and for an IT consultant to become as obsolete as a first-generation programming language.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
I have a few favourite authors – fantasy and science fiction mostly. I read a great deal of non-fiction for research, and scour second-hand bookstores for interesting explorations of historical events and people. I read books by people in my field, and also read books outside my field, such as romance and crime. I mostly prop up my kindle on something and read while I’m doing crafts, or sitting outside, or any time that I’m not in front of my own computer putting down words.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
My 100% reliable way of defeating ‘writer’s block’ is to head up to the local café with my laptop and read my work in progress up to the point where it’s stopped. I’ll snap out of it thirty minutes later with a cold cup of coffee next to me and a few thousand words added, and the next part of the storyline clear in my head and ready to go.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Connect with other writers. The best way to do this is through your local writers centre. I would not be published today if it weren’t for QWC. Build a name for yourself by writing quality short fiction. Be aware that everybody today is looking for diversity in storytelling. And the most important thing, above all, is to learn the craft; I was lucky that I had some friends who pointed me in the right direction for information on writing clear, fast-paced popular fiction.
Kylie Chan is the best-selling author of the Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang and Celestial Battle trilogies, which tell the story of Emma, an ordinary Australian woman thrown into the world of Chinese Gods, martial arts, and magic. Kylie splits her time between Australian and Hong Kong.