Richard Harland on Writing

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I'm a slow writer – always have been and always will be. I gasp when I hear about authors who knock off ten or twenty thousand words in a day. On a good day, I manage about two pages, and on an average day, one page. But do I worry? No – because as long as I keep writing, the pages keep steadily mounting up. Even at 650 words a day, that's still 65,000 words in a hundred days - which is a whole Ferren-size novel. My secret is consistency – I'm always writing, I never stop. Not for weekends, not for holidays – only Xmas and birthdays and special events.

If I have to take a long break, it's a huge struggle to get back into the world of the story – I'm no longer living in it. For me, it's easier never to stop, so that I don't have to go through the agony of re-starting! When I sit down to write every day, I know that, no matter what mood I'm in, very soon the world will start taking over again. It's bigger than me and it has its own momentum! I don't worry about being inspired, I don't have to force myself to sit down to write. I just know I'm going to do it.

Most professional writers I've talked to say the same. With a poem or short story, you can wait for inspiration to come – but not with a long novel. A long novel can't depend on the inspiration of a single day.

So I have a regular writing routine – which is one way of avoiding my old nemesis of writer's block. I start every morning straight after breakfast and work through till after lunch, usually 1.30 or 2.30. It doesn't matter to me so much now, but at first I needed a stopping time as much as a starting time. If I wrote myself out, exhausted my imagination, then I had no excitement to go back to next morning.

There's another part of my routine later in the day which is maybe just me – I've never heard of anyone else doing it, but I'll tell it anyway. After a break of a couple of hours (doing jobs as far away from writing as possible), I spend the later part of the afternoon 'realising' the next episode for tomorrow. By 'realising', I mean working up atmosphere, setting, feel, the way it's going to present – what film makers call mise-en-scene, I think. For me, it's a sort of pre-filming in my head (and everyone tells me my novels read like films!). The beauty of it is that I have a night to 'sleep on it', which somehow solidifies the scene and makes it real. When I sit down to write the next morning, it's as though I only have to record something that actually happened!

 

 

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1997 - 2015

Richard Harland.