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Developing A Writing Routine, by Adrian Goldsworthy

I am lucky enough to be able to write full time.  It did not happen overnight. For almost a decade I was still working full or part-time as an academic.  Everyone’s circumstances will vary, but the odds are that at the beginning writing your historical novel will have to be fitted in with plenty of other things.  Some people write after a full day’s work, and one friend is currently working on a novel during the rare free moments granted to her as she raises two small children.  As far as possible, you need to find times when you can switch off the real world and focus on the imaginary world of your characters.  The more time you can get on a regular basis and ‘live’ with your characters the better.  Obviously that’s a lot easier said than done – real life, and especially such things as small children, may well refuse to permit you a set time every week (or even every month) to write.  As an aspiration it remains good.  The more time you can set aside to work on your novel, then obviously the quicker it is likely to come on and that will help a lot in terms of the flow of the story.

With historical fiction, you also need time to do the research, and this is easier in some ways, because you can sneak some time to read up on the period during a lunch break or daily commute.  With a bit of planning you can fit in visits to places, museums, or archives alongside work or holiday trips, especially if you think in advance.  As useful is time spent mulling over your plot, both before you start writing and as you go along.

In my case writing the historical novels is only part of what I do as a writer, and has only really got going after I had become established as a writer of non-fiction history – in my case on the ancient and specifically Roman periods.  With the non fiction I will aim to spend six months or so delving into the subject in general before I start writing at all.  After that, I read up on the topic of the next chapter for a week or two and then write it, repeating the process over and over again.  In contrast, with a novel I prefer to spend a month or so reading up and then aim to write the first draft of the story in one go over the next six to eight weeks.

My daily routine is much the same for both.  I have sometimes written on trains or in hotels, but am happiest in my office at home, and as far as possible treat it as a nine to five job – albeit one with a lot more flexibility.  Computer monitors are pretty good these days, but it still is not a good idea to stare at one for too many hours.  I work in sessions of an hour and a half, and then take a half an hour off before the next one.  Sometimes it is easy and the words simply flow faster than you can type.  At other times it is painful, and you write nothing or dreadful rubbish that you know you will change.  The key thing is to stick to it and stay until the end of the session.  If you do that, then the odds are that over time you get far more good sessions than bad.

Setting yourself deadlines is a good idea – a chapter finished by a certain day, the whole thing ready by the end of a certain month.  Smaller ones also help.  With non fiction my rule of thumb is that if I write one thousand words of good text in a day then I will finish the book on time.  On the good days I will write much more.  With fiction I would always hope to write two or three thousand in a day.  Starting a chapter well can be difficult, and starting a book can be a bit of a nightmare.  That is one big advantage of sticking strictly to your planned writing sessions even if it takes days or even weeks before you really get going.  In time the momentum will come.

That is my routine, and inevitably it is a personal one that might not be practical or effective for others.  The trick is to find your own method and then have the discipline to stick to it.  Another friend took a Masters in Creative Writing not because she especially needed the teaching, but because she found a formal course helped her to structure writing her historical novel as part of the coursework for her studies.

Find a routine that suits you. Also try to remember that you are not likely to write a good novel in a day or two.  Make sure that your routine allows you to take breaks and relax. Getting out in the fresh air and exercising can calm your mind wonderfully and help you write when you return to it.  When your story really starts going it can seem that it is writing itself and you do not want to stop, but you need to force yourself because if you are exhausted then you will not write as well.


Adrian Goldsworthy’s author website:

Adrian Goldsworthy’s bio page


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Writing Historical Novels

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. On my experience a routine is absolutely essential to professional writing. The specifics of it depend on the writer, but the key is the routine. With my own writing work, I’ll usually create a schedule based on the publisher deadline, and know what components have to be written and when, working backwards from that. Planning – including making allowance for variables – is the key.

    December 17, 2013

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