richard harland's writing tips

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Good Writing Habits


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1. Preparation

3. Feedback & Revision












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2. Writing Through




Most of the professional writers I know have a regular writing routine. A short story can be written in a single burst of inspiration, but a novel has to be written day in and day out over a long period.

My routine is to start work every day of the week straight after breakfast. Morning, I’ve learned, is my most motivated time. But the key thing is habit.

I used to be a baulker. Whenever it was time to start writing, I could always find a million excuses. My head wasn’t in the right state, I needed to re-check my notes, something, anything. I dreaded taking the plunge.

Now I’m in the habit of starting straight after breakfast. I know I’m going to do it, so I don’t have to wrestle myself into doing it. I start writing first and inspiration comes second.

Well, how can you expect to be newly inspired with ideas every time you sit down to write? Novels don’t work like that. The inspiration that goes into them is infinitely bigger than any one day’s writing.

My important discovery was that, once I get stuck into the writing, sooner or later the whole story and world will start sweeping me along again. They’re bigger than me, built up over weeks and months of planning and writing. My particular mood on this particular day doesn’t matter.

stone blockThat discovery helped me get over my25 years of writer’s block. Another discovery was that I could trust to the story and world in my head, without re-reading notes or yesterday’s writing. Or, at least, without judging whether they’re good or bad.

Okay, I do sometimes skim through the last paragraphs of yesterday’s writing—but I refuse to let myself think about possible improvements. Once I get caught up in backwards revisions, I’m lost. I start fiddling with phrases and the order of sentences, I start hesitating and obsessing over tiny things. No! What I need to recover is the large-scale feel and thrust of the novel as a whole.

I’m lucky I can arrange my days. I take my hat off to anyone who has to fit their writing into moments of free time. Especially mothers of small children—I don’t know how you do it!

One thing I’ve heard said—and it corresponds to my experience before I became a full-time writer—is that it’s better to have frequent short periods of writing (ideally at fixed times of day) rather than save up for a single uninterrupted block of several days or a couple of weeks. The single block becomes too daunting, when you know you have to write or else!

Still, some writers can work like that, which is fine. Do what you do! Just don’t feel that you ought to. It’s the poetic version of the writerly life, frenzied periods when the words just pour out of you. However, most professional writers I know don’t work like that. For me, learning to work in a different way was part of the process of overcoming writer’s block.

Routine and habit don’t sound very glamorous, but if the inspiration is there in you, who cares how it gets out onto the page? Slow release or fast release, it’s all the same in the end.










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Copyright note: all material on this website is (c) Richard Harland, 2009-10
Copyright note: all written material on this website is copyright
1997 - 2010 Richard Harland.