Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Richard Harland on Writer's Block

Every week from now on I'll be inviting an Aussie writer to blog about books or writing. First out of the blocks is the amazing Richard Harland, who had writer's block for 25 years! But he's since had fifteen novels published, won enough awards to fill a treasure chest, including two major French awards this year – the Tam-Tam je Bouquine and the Prix Lucioles – and has had a big international success with his YA novels, Worldshaker and its sequel, Liberator. Over to you, Richard –

Writer's block! Tell me about it! I could write the book about not writing the book. I had 25 years of writer's block, and I remember all the little excuses, the spiralling self-doubt, the gnawing guilt. I went through every twist and turn of it.

So here's the fruit of all my years of living with writer's block: DON'T BE INSPIRED! I mean it! Inspiration isn't what you need to get over writer's block; it's what you need to stop thinking about or you'll never get over it.

Not-feeling-inspired-right-now is the greatest of all excuses for not writing, the greatest cause of self-doubt and guilt. Waiting for that magic moment to come before you set pen to paper, fingers to keyboard—forget it! Write like an angel but think like a drudge. Start work at a set time of day, keep working for a set number of hours per day. It doesn't matter how wonderful your personal writing experience is or isn't. All that matters is the story out there.

Let's face it, the story is bigger than you, and much much bigger than any one day's writing. Start writing and, if it's out there, by and by it'll start flowing through you again. After all, one of the meanings of 'drudge' is 'servant'. Fot me, it really helps to think of myself as the servant of my stories.

I'm not sure about poets, but I reckon any aspiring novelist who's hung up on creativity as a ego-boost will never get beyond the aspiration. (And there are plenty of ego-flattening experiences to go though when you do finish that novel and you do get published!) One of my problems though my 25 years of writer's block was viewing myself as a poet and cultivating a Romantic-sized ego. Bad start!

I have a few smaller tactics for beating the block, tactics I've also described in my 145 page guide to writing, http://www.writingtips.com.au/.

Firstly, set yourself a time to finish writing every day and stick to it. That way you'll have something you can't wait to to come back to the next day.

And when you come back to it, don't re-read what you wrote yesterday—or slip into trying to improve it. Revising backwards has a nasty habit of leading to smaller and smaller revisions until you disappear up your own fundamental orifice. Better to focus on what comes next.

But not too far ahead. It's so daunting when you look ahead after fifty pages and see there's still another four hundred and fifty to write. Be happy for the fifty you've already got under your belt, and even happier when you add five more, then five more, then five more again. It's wonderful, the steady way those pages mount up! You're half way through before you know it.

I'm about a third of the way though my third steampunk novel right now, and I realised today just how much I've changed since my writer's block days. Now I can write through a chapter and go on to the next even when I know what I've written has flaws. I used to be such a manic perfectionist! So that's my last bit of advice: don't be a perfectionist. And if you know how not to be a perfectionist, hey, you probably don't have writer's block anyway.

Richard's site: http://www.richardharland.net/ 

Great advice, thanks, Richard. 

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