song of the slums

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Writing Song of the Slums







Revising & Editing









I was playing around with ideas for Song of the Slums long before I put pen to paper, but when I started writing, I finished the first draft in 6 months. That doesn't compare to the speed of some writers, but for me, it's almost a miracle. I've always been a slow writer - 1,000 words in one day would be unusually good for me. My only virtue is consistency - I write every day, regular as clockwork, no holidays, and I produce something almost every day. (Bar a few mini-periods of writer's block, when I go back and re-think and re-plan - but they're only mini-periods nowadays, nothing like my old 25 years of creative constipation!)

(tools of the trade, with lucky mascot, aka Murgy the toy dog >

So Song of the Slums was a quick write for me, and followed almost exactly the same pattern as Liberator. That is, 6 months for the first draft, then set aside for a couple of months, then another 10 weeks for a start-to-finish rewrite. I'm hoping this has now become my regular pattern! And, as with Liberator, the first draft of the novel started writing itself from very early on, only about a third of the way through. That's when I totally LOVE writing - when it just zooms ahead on its own momentum and carries me along for the ride!

OK, it's not literally a fast ride compared to other writers, but it's exhilerating and glorious and all-consuming for me. I live the world of the novel every minute of the day, imagining ahead and sharing the characters' experience - whooo!

Some of my writing habits change, but most stay the same. When I said 'put pen to paper', I really meant it. I write my draft out in paragraphs of longhand - or longhand with my own special shorthand abbreviations - then type them up on my iPad. The only recent change is the iPad - handier than laptop, and the Pages software does everything I want - and the frequency of the typing up, which now happens every two or three sentences rather than every two or three paragraphs.

I've always written on paper that's been used on one side, but my dozens of boxes of used paper are almost all gone, and no new source of supply, so I guess that's about to change. I like coloured paper for doing notes and planning - and I do a lot of notes and planning - or large A3 size sheets, or A3 white cardboard. I've grown very fond lately of 4-colour pens, so that I can scribble different bits and pieces all over a page, and still see clearly what's what. My big problem is that I end up writing smaller and smaller as I have to keep making new insertions on the same page!

My first ideas go into a file in my filing cabinet, which looks like this (only the Song of the Slums file has long since gone). Then I collect material in a tray - a decapitated cardboard box - which soon falls into separate folders for characters, setting, story, names, background, etc. As I come close to writing, the story folder gets thicker and thicker, and turns into a number of separate trays. Like, the most immediate chapters, the longer-term segments of the novel, and the overall story. Gradually, characters and setting etc all shift across into the story trays, as different revelations and descriptions find their place in the narrative.

As I type up, my iPad saves automatically, but I copy everything across to my laptop at the end of the morning's writing. I love the way the words mount up - in fact, I'm an obsessive about my total word count, and my chapter word count. It's harmless and beneficial when it gives me a positive feeling of just how much I've completed already!

Trays in bookshelf (also used for storing Easter chocolates)

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Richard Harland.