Drop the Preamble

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I spent the New Year with my first official experience as a working author-mother “out there” in the world, trying on both hats at the same time. I can’t think of a better place to experiment with this balancing act than Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, which hosts an annual by-invitation artist residency called Pentaculum. I’m lucky enough to be the Writing Coordinator for this event, which means I spend the better part of the year recruiting gifted, community-minded, deserving writers to come to this residency. If I’ve done my job well, when I arrive at Pentaculum each year, most of my work is done.

This year proved no exception. The authors who joined the 70+ artists in other mediums (clay, painting, textiles, wood) were open-minded and open-hearted. They got their work done and nestled into our private, quiet lodging with focus and clear goals to revise, write, revisit, read, organize, explore, and recoup. But they also reached out to artists in other studios if they felt inspired. Naturally, collaborations and experimentation were the result, not to mention the sheer inspiration of learning how others imagine and create. For my part, with Brad and River on board and with about one meeting a day as Coordinator, I honestly wasn’t sure how much actual writing I’d get done. But with their support, and with the support of Arrowmont (being flexible, being accommodating with family-style lodging for our needs), I did, indeed, get to write.

My biggest takeaway from the week also happens to be my new mantra as a working author-mother: DROP THE PREAMBLE. Another way of saying this is seize the day or, don’t doddle. I prefer “drop the preamble” because it’s so startling and direct. So many writers feel they have to have the perfect set of circumstances before they can write. But practicing writers–writers who write for life–know this is a myth. You can write anywhere at any time. Yes, certain circumstances are better or more enriching than others (I was at a residency, after all), but the fact remains that if writers or artists of any kind “wait” for the perfect moment or for inspiration to strike, they become working waiters–not working writers.

For me, dropping preamble means no journaling and no reading. Just start writing. It also means setting a word count goal for the day or for the hour, and trying to meet it. I suggest the word count goal only for writers who don’t already have a guilt complex going. If you tend to beat yourself up easily for things, don’t set word count goals. But if you’re go-with-the-flow about things and are able to see the usefulness of a small goal for the sake of the circumstances (and not as a measure of your character or overall abilities), then word count goals can be really effective and useful. Depending on the day (how River slept, how I slept, if I had a meeting, etc.), I set a goal mid-morning and stuck to it every time, being reasonable but still providing myself with some measure of challenge.

My week at Pentaculum proved a great start to the year–I wrote 3,000 new words on a new story for a collection of short stories set in Appalachia, and then actually finished an early working draft of that story this week, once we got back home. I finished one book, started and finished another, and had meaningful conversations about my craft with authors who I admire. River was 7 weeks old at Arrowmont and hit a milestone himself…he slept through the night (6.5 hours) for the first time in his wee young life. Astonishing!

Showing 3 comments
  • Suzi Banks Baum
    Reply

    This is astonishing on every level. not the least of which SLEEP!
    But I have been thinking about “Drop the Preamble” since you mentioned it.
    Pre-amble…the walk before…the wander in the words of others, the setting up things just so.
    It is a wild ride, getting those clear moments of time to write write write and I love that you
    have found the key for you. I will share this post with my Out of the Mouths of Babes tribe
    of mother writers. xoS

  • Katherine
    Reply

    Katey so great to hear about your positive experience and new motherhood! I know what you mean about the preamble, although I sometimes feel i must have it to get to “the right place”–a little journaling, a little corresponding. But agree that can spin out of control and eat into writing without great care, especially when writing time is so limited.

    Now that Gavin is nearly 15 I have a lot more freedom with time than I once did. One decision I made a while ago, which I very rarely stray from, is to immerse myself in my chosen genre (nature writing) whenever I do read.

    Look forward to reading more of your blog!

    • Katey
      Reply

      Wonderful to find you here, my friend, and thanks for the kind support and interest.

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