I met Richard through the Conflux conventions. He’s been at various times our master of ceremonies and a star of the readings. He’s colourful, full of life, and has lately been getting some much deserved success with his steampunk novels. Last weekend he won the A. Bertram Chandler award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction’ – congrats Richard! Here’s Richard’s habits.
1) What is your writing schedule?
Start every day straight after breakfast and keep writing through until about 1.20 (lunch time). When I’m in the early stages of a novel I’m happy to go till lunch; in the later stages, as the excitement builds up, I work on into the afternoon. For revisions, even creative revision, I can go all the way until dinner time.
That’s my routine for every single day – no weekends, no regular breaks except birthdays and Xmas Day. I’m a slow writer, so I have to make up with consistency! Besides, I find it so hard getting back into the groove if I have a break that I’d rather not have a break!
2) Do you set yourself word count aims or time limits to keep yourself on track? What are your aims/limits?
Time limits, as I described, but never a word count. My writing doesn’t work like that – I’m amazed that anyone’s does. Sometimes there are pages and chapters that need to be mulled over and can’t be – shouldn’t be – written in a hurry. I believe a story is like a living animal – you can guide it and persuade it, but you have to respect it and interact with it. It’s not a machine that can be forced to travel at a fixed rate of words per hour.
3) Do you work on more than one project at a time? If so, how do you organise it?
No, one project at a time. I’ve only ever managed to write two things at once when they were totally different kinds of writing, e.g fiction in the morning and academic writing in the afternoon (back in my days as an academic). Or first draft creative writing in the morning and tidy-and-polish revision in the afternoon.
4) If you have paid employment apart from writing, how do you organise your time so you can write?
Thanks be, I’m a full-time writer!
5) If you have family, how do you organise your time so you can write?
Kids are grown and moved out of home. Not an issue.
6) How do you get family and friends to respect the writing time and leave you be?
Well, that means mainly Aileen, who keeps pretty busy with her own activities. We have a constant routine – Chinese tea about 9.30, morning coffee/snack about 10.45, another cuppa at 12, then lunch at 1.20. Habit, habit, habit! – it sounds boring, but it’s great for turning out the words!
7) What do you do to keep your ‘well of creativity’ stocked up?
I spent twenty-five years with writer’s block, so I built up a huge stock of unwritten ideas in that time. I’m not in danger of running out! Also, I’m always thinking and planning at least one novel ahead of the one I’m actually writing.
My only other ‘trick’ is to take a short story holiday between full length novels … By the time I’ve written three or so short stories, I’m mentally geared up for a long-term project again.
8) How do you cope with the days/weeks that you just don’t want to write?
After all those years of writer’s block, it seems odd to say I don’t have that problem … But I don’t, not now! I guess I don’t give myself time to build up reluctance – I just get straight into it as soon as I finish breakfast. And since I do it every day, I know I’m going to do it today too. I also know I don’t have to feel inspired to begin writing; I have to begin writing and the inspiration will come. It never takes long before the novel starts flowing through me again.
9) How do you fit other writer career commitments into your schedule so it doesn’t unduly affect the writing? Eg publicity, attending conventions
Those are the unavoidable breaks, in addition to birthdays and Xmas Day. I can cope with missing a day or two or three, but if I don’t get to write for a long period – especially if I get into a different sort of head space – that can be a pain. I just have to sweat it out until I’m back living in my fictional world again.
10) What changes have you made to your habits over the years? What are the mistakes that you used to make, habits that didn’t work for you?
I haven’t consciously changed my habits, but they have evolved – mainly in the direction of not having to worry so much. Even a long period of not writing isn’t as fraught as it used to be. I guess I’m more relaxed with myself.
The big habit that didn’t work for me was not having a habit. I wanted to write like a poet, in wild irrepressible bursts of inspiration. Fine for poets, but not much use for producing fantasy trilogies.
Richard has been a full-time author for thirteen years, after finishing his first novel at the age of forty-five (!) He lives near Wollongong, south of Sydney, between golden beaches, green escarpment and the biggest steelworks in the southern hemisphere.
He has collected six Aurealis Awards and the A. Bertram Chandler Award in Australia, and the Tam-Tam Je Bouquine award in France. His short stories have appeared in three major American anthologies: Year’s Best Fantasy #9, Best Horror of the Year #3, and Ghosts by Gaslight.
His novels have spanned adult, YA and children’s, and fantasy, horror and science fiction. His fifteenth novel, the steampunk fantasy Worldshaker, came out in Australia, US, UK, France, Germany and Brazil. The sequel, Liberator, came out in Australia, UK, France and Germany in 2011, and in the US earlier this year.
He’s now finishing off another steampunk novel, set in the same world, to be published by Allen & Unwin in March 2012.
You can read more habits and processes here: http://nicolermurphy.com/writers-habits-and-processes/