Writing Techniques – Are you the Hare or the Tortoise?

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If ever there was a dreich autumn night it was Thursday. It was one of those nights where you just wanted to coorie in with a good book and light the stove. But thanks to the Edinburgh Reads programme, I had tickets to see Jane Harris at the Central Library in Edinburgh so I peeled myself off the couch to take the train east.

download (2)I also dragged my hubby along for company and he did question whether it was worth braving the weather when the tickets were free. Couldn’t I just content myself with reading the book and stay cosy? Well no, because chances like this to see a writer you admire don’t happen every week so up went the brolly and off we trotted. And I’m so glad we did. I’ve followed Jane on Twitter for some time and found her tweets to be witty and interesting and she didn’t disappoint in person. If anything I was even more in awe of her talent to entertain as she had the audience in stitches with her banter.


The stunning domed ceiling of the Central Library but it didn’t hold my attention once the event started.

Often at readings, I find it hard to concentrate on long passages and my mind wanders. Not this time as Jane’s skill at accents turned this into a performance rather than a reading. I’m currently halfway through her first novel, The Observations and Jane really brought the voice of Bessy to life.

I don’t normally read historical fiction as I prefer contemporary fiction but I kept hearing recommendations that Jane’s other Victorian novel, Gillespie and I was a fantastic book. Based on these rave reviews and the setting of Glasgow which appealed to my love of the city I decided to give it a go. The book is a dark tale with a disturbing psychological plot and a great read as you wonder about the motivations of the complex character of Harriet, the unreliable narrator.

download (1)downloadHearing Jane’s inspiration for memorable characters like Bessy and Harriet was fascinating but the best bit of the event for me was the Q and A session. This is always a great insight into a writer’s techniques and it was interesting to learn that Jane uses the complete opposite to the Freefall technique which I’ve been recommending others try since completing the first draft of my novel. Jane reads her work aloud as she writes it and finds it difficult to take off her ‘editor’s hat’ as she writes and won’t progress with the story until she’s absolutely satisfied with each and every sentence. Her meticulous attention to detail and extensive research means that Jane doesn’t churn out novels year after year. But then again, with such layered plots and well-drawn characters it’s easy to see why it would be impossible to mass produce work of this quality.

There is no right and wrong way to write a novel and I’m still experimenting with techniques. Which technique works best for you? Slow and steady wins the race or spontaneous freestyle to reach the finishing line?

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4 thoughts on “Writing Techniques – Are you the Hare or the Tortoise?

  1. Spontaneous to get it down without being overly self-critical, then painstaking after…I mentioned before I read the whole of my draft novel onto tape, editing as I did it, then listening and editing again. Took an age, but I do think it makes the dialogue flow and sound more authentic. And those over-writerly phrases that you (or me, anyway) love and would maybe leave in suddenly leap out, sounding…over-writerly and jarring.

  2. So jealous, would’ve loved to have seen Jane Harris. I’ve read both books and was absolutely impressed, love her writing and was blown away by Harriet. I’ve tried both ways of writing and finally have found a bit of both works best for me. With my current WIP I started with a quite detailed outline and wrote a backstory for my main characters, then rushed through the first draft. This way the editing process is quite intense but even so for the first time I feel this WIP is actually getting somewhere. I use a tape recorder also but it’s easier and quicker just to get my husband to read my work to me and I immediately spot cluncky phrases and odd words and the like. Oh and especially those writerly phrases when even he stops and gives me that look……..and he doesn’t even read that much lol!! Happy writing 🙂

    • Hi Sarah, Yes, the event was very inspiring and entertaining and I’d highly recommend going to see Jane if you ever get the chance. I’ve been reading my WIP aloud as I edit but also get my husband to proofread it too and his eagle eye always spots mistakes I’ve missed. Like yours, he’s not a big reader either but can spot an awkward expression or stilted dialogue easily so it definitely helps get a fresh pair of eyes on your work. Best of luck with your writing 🙂

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