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The Constant Art of Being a Writer

The Life, Art and Business of Fiction
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The Constant Art of Being a Writer
by N.M. Kelby
Writer's Digest Books, 2009
ISBN 13: 978-1-58297-575-7
ISBN 10: 978-1-58297-575-2
$17.99, paperback, 256 pages

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Find out how to develop and test story ideas in this excerpt from Chapter 13: A Novel idea.

From that first story idea to publication and beyond, being a novelist is an evolving process. The Constant Art of Being a Writer helps you discover the mindset and skills you need to grow as an artist and confidently approach each aspect of writing and publishing.

Award-winning novelist and short story writer N.M. Kelby explores core fiction-writing techniques like idea generation, outlining, character development, and the use of black comedic moments and magic realism, as well as essential business-related topics like getting an agent, self-promotion, crafting a bestseller, the ins and outs of a successful author tour, and much more.

With lively instruction, innovative writing tips, and original exercises, The Constant Art of Being a Writer is a guide you can count on every step of the way.

“Pow! An astonishing book, a book of importance and urgency for anyone who is serious about making a living at writing. Don’t wait, don’t stall, don’t browse. Buy a copy right now.”
—Seth Godin, author of Tribes

“N.M. Kelby's fiction is filled with flights of fancy, by turns whimsical and stirring, but it's always solidly grounded in characters with easily recognizable personalities. Her advice for aspiring writers comes from the same wellspring of compassionate realism, establishing a framework that can help you organize your life aroundyour creative dreams one day a time.”
—Ron Hogan,

“To be a successful author in the twenty-first century, you need a plan and a process, you need to know the mechanics of writing and the ins and outs of the business, and you need hope and talent. If you have the talent, then The Constant Art of Being A Writer: The Life, the Art & the Business of Fiction supplies the rest. Buy it, read it, then make space for it on your desk—you'll want it near you whenever you are working.”
—Daren Wang, editor of VERB

N.M.Kelby (www.nmkelby) is the author of A Travel Guide for Restless Hearts, In the Company of Angels, Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill, Whale Season and Theater of the Stars (Theia/Hyperion). Named “Outstanding Southern Artist” by The Southern Arts Federation, Kelby’s work has been translated into several languages and offered by The Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Quality Paperback Book Club.

Her short stories have appeared in many publications including One Story, Zoetrope ASE, and the audio magazine Verb. Her story “Jubilation, Florida” was selected for National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts, and later recorded by actress Joanne Woodward for the NPR CD Travel Tales, and included in New Stories from the South: Best of 2006 (Algonquin Books).

She is the recipient of a Bush Artist Fellowship in Literature, an NEA Inter-Arts grant, the Heekin Group Foundation’s James Fellowship for the Novel, both a Florida and Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in fiction, two Jerome Travel Study Grants, a Jewish Arts Endowment Fellowship and numerous prizes.

She is currently working on the film version of Whale Season along with Actor/Singer Dwight Yoakam.


Introduction: A Life in Words


1. Embracing the Profession
2. Setting Up Practice
3. Reading as a Writer
4. Cultivating a Critical Eye
5. Joining a Writing Community
6. Creating Your Own Community
7. Understanding the Reader
8. Overcoming Writer’s Block
9. Genre vs. Literary Writing
10. Professional Development: Education, Awards, and Residencies
11. Your Day Job
12. Make Your Own Muse

13. A Novel Idea
14. Creating Your Protagonist
15. Techniques for Crafting Your Entire Cast
16. Crafting Your Story
17. The Structure of Your Tale
18. Starting at the End: How to Outline
19. Research
20. Revision Techniques: A Tune-Up Toolkit
21. A Plastic Buddha: Thoughts on Language With Aimee Bender
22. How to Create a Bestseller
23. Your Work in the World

24. Agents and the Contract Process
25. How Do You Know Your Manuscript Isn’t Working?
26. Poor Sales and What to Do About It
27. Surviving Your Public Life
28. The $80 (More or Less) Promotional Campaign and Other Considerations
29. The Book Tour
30. Publicity
31. Self-Publishing
32. Literary Estate Planning

Appendix A: The Jargon: Words and Phrases You Need to Know
Appendix B: Books to Keep You Going

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