How do you prevent repeating yourself?

Working on the next Inspector Andy Horton, the sixth in the series, I am reminded of a question a reader asked me at a talk I gave recently. How do prevent repeating yourself?  The answer can be both with great difficulty, and do I need to worry about this anyway?

Once you find an author you like you search for other novels he or she has written because the style of the writing appeals to you.  Therefore a degree of repetition is part of what we like about our favourite novelists, and most writers repeat themselves, that in a sense is exactly what the reader wants.  At the same time the reader obviously wants a fresh story, a new mystery to fathom out, to be intrigued, gripped, entertained, etc. As a writer the challenge then is to maintain the style your readers like, develop the characters, if it is a series, and at the same time produce something new.

The themes and plots of the novels change but every author has a style, a signature if you like, that others in time might come to imitate, if you become really popular. I like to write in a fast-paced style without too much description, others will write novels containing an enormous amount of detail, each to his or her own.

With each revision though it becomes more difficult to see if what you are writing is indeed new, because you become so familiar with the work.  That's why writers are often advised to leave a gap of some days, weeks even between revisions.  It is good advice but something I seem to have great difficulty in doing.  Too impatient, I guess.

Margaret Drabble last year vowed to stop writing novels because she was afraid of repeating herself. She probably needn't worry: being sensitive to the perils of repetition is probably halfway towards avoiding it altogether. With this in mind it's time to get back to writing.

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