Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fiona Harper on Writing: My Secret Weapon

This month, Fiona Harper talks about her secret weapon when it comes to getting words on the page.

Sometimes talking writing craft get very in-depth. In fact, I love it when it gets in-depth! I could go on delving into different ideas for hours, picking things apart. However, sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, and today I’m going to share with you one of my secret tricks to making sure I get my word count done each day.

This is it:

It’s a digital kitchen timer.

No, it does not possess magical powers to give me plot ideas when I’m stuck. Nor does it whisper dialogue to me when the cursor is blinking in front of me. What it does do is help me focus for a given period of time, something I’m sure all writers know is like gold dust when it comes to the writing process!

My love for my kitchen timer started when I got Repetitive Strain Injury in my wrists back in 2007. I was unable to type for a long time, and when I did start to recover my physio recommended I only worked for 30 min periods then got up and did something else for a while before coming back to my keyboard. I discovered it was easier said than done. I’d start writing and get engrossed in a scene, or I’d think, “I’ll just check two more things on Facebook...” and then I’d discover an hour had passed. And in that hour my neck had cramped into a hard little block and my back would be screaming. So I bought myself a cheap little digital kitchen timer and sat it near my monitor.

I’d set 30 mins on the clock and press the button. Until the beeper went I'd do nothing but write. No email checking. No tweeting. No Googling for supposed ‘research’. And when it went off – no matter what – I’d get up and move around. However, even when the RSI improved, I continued to use my timer. I discovered that focusing my attention totally on my current work-in-progress, even in short bursts, was really great for my creativity.

If I was feeling stuck, I’d think, “I’ve only got to write for half an hour. I can manage that…” it was much better than thinking about the 40,000 words that were still missing from my first draft. In this way, the timer helps me break the job down into manageable chunks. The first ten minutes can be torture if I’m having a dry day, but I’ve now realised I always get onto a roll somewhere between 10 and 20 minute mark, and then the words start to flow. Sometimes, it's starting writing that's the hardest bit. Right?

I often still stop when the timer goes, even though my neck, wrists and back are much better now. But doesn’t that mean you stop partway through a scene? I hear you cry. How does that work?! Actually, it works really well. If I’ve got ideas about where the scene should go next, I jot them down and then walk away. It means that I hardly ever come back to a blank page or a blinking cursor, feeling as if I’ve got to drag something up from inside. There’s always a thread of an idea to run with, something I’ve been chewing over since I got up and walked away from my desk. When I come back to it, I’m often raring to go.

Nowadays I will often set my timer for 45 minutes or an hour, which is great when the words are coming, but if I’m really, really struggling, I’ll set it for 15 or 20. Then I’ll have something on the page I can work with. So, next time you’re stuck why don’t you try it? You’ll never believe how powerful one tiny little kitchen timer can be at focusing and unlocking your muse!

Fiona's latest book is out now, available on Amazon,Waterstones, The Book Depository, W H Smith and Mills & Boon.

The perfect Christmas Swap?
Make my wish smallAll Juliet, frazzled single mum and Yuletide domestic goddess, wants for Christmas is a joyful family celebration (even if she does have to wrestle with last-minute angel costume making and shopping centre dashes).
All her single sister Gemma, and assistant director, wants is a Christmas in the sizzling Caribbean sun, away from diva actors and Hollywood tantrums.
Until a sisterly squabble prompts new plans: a Christmas swap.

Gemma will spend a cozy, snowy Christmas with her nieces and nephews – not to mention Juliet’s gorgeous neighbour Will – whilst Juliet takes Gemma’s tropical holiday and unplanned adventures.

It’s not the Christmas they expected, but it could be about to make all their wishes come true…


  1. Completely agree Fiona - that kitchen timer has helped me break through my procrastination/ internet addiction SO many time. Great tip.