On Writing Process: Writers Just Effing Write

Man Standing on His Head Playing the Guitar

If this man can play the guitar standing on his head, surely you can write in unfamiliar circumstances.

Here is one of the wisest things about writing process ever told me, said by Syne Mitchell during a Clarion West Friday mystery muse visit: “Try different things, find out what works for you, and then do that. Lots.” Brilliant.

It’s to the point because everyone’s process differs, and may change due to time and circumstance. I can write with some ambient noise, for example, so I can take a notebook over to Soul Food Books in order to grab coffee and one of their tables and know I’ll have a productive afternoon. Here at home, I need more quiet, and it takes me a little longer to get focused, but once I’m started I can write fast and furiously for a stint that’s good for a chunk of words. I like writing in airports, but it’s scattered writing, flashes of notes, observations about people, notes for stories I’ll write later.

Sometimes I write on the computer, other times by hand in a notebook. I’ve tried dictating and at first it didn’t work well for me but over the course of a decade has become crucial to my process. I sample different notebooks – I like big artist’s sketch pads to write in, actually, because I like all that white space with plenty of room for extra notes and diagrams. I don’t like writing on small surfaces, like business cards or Post-its; I don’t think I’d get much done if forced to rely on those.

And actually, I take that back. If all I had to write on was index cards, I’d make that work. Because sometimes you have to, or else give up on writing. A new parent, for example, won’t have the uninterrupted bouts of time that they once had. They have to start thinking about writing in short bursts, or at a time they’d normally be in bed. The trick is to write, to resist the temptation to slack off, to give yourself a break.

Try new things. Go write somewhere today where you haven’t written before and turn out a few hundred words there: sitting on your front steps, or on an aquarium bench while tourists pass, or sitting on the back of one of the lion statues outside the Art Institute in Chicago while a November wind gnaws at your fingers. Or write a list of ten places to try – and then try at least one. Or stay at home in your usual place, that’s fine too. As long as you’re getting some writing done.

The mantra of our household is: writers just effing write. Because it’s so much easier not to do it, to spend time reading blog posts or alphabetizing the spice rack or making plans and blueprints for the wonderful story we’ll produce, once we get sufficiently prepared. Prepare yourself for the writing, don’t prepare the writing for you by fiddling with outlines or research or format.

Enjoy this writing advice and want more like it? Check out the classes Cat gives via the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers both on-demand and live online writing classes for fantasy and science fiction writers from Cat and other authors, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and other talents! All classes include three free slots.

Perefer to opt for weekly interaction, advice, opportunities to ask questions, and access to the Chez Rambo Discord community and critique group? Check out Cat’s Patreon. Or sample her writing here.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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