In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Rachel McCain, a student in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. You can follow Rachel on Twitter @Raqafella. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor
Fact: I don’t trust computers. I’m always paranoid my laptop is going to crash, disintegrating my work in the process—which has happened before. Several times.
I’ve lost USB flash drives, misplaced them. I forgot a USB in Staples over the summer. Tragic, but a way of life.
As it goes.
So I write everything down in a notebook—or try to. Usually, stories end up on the backs of bills lying around, receipts, in large blank spaces on old assignments. When I’ve written a substantial amount, I’ll type it up—save as I go—and then print it out and edit again. You know, just in case.
I write at night. Coffee on my nightstand, complete silence. I tend to suffer from bouts of insomnia, so I use the non-sleep to my advantage. I write from the right side of my bed—I get bad mojo from the left side. Whatever I’m thinking gets splashed across a page—a beautiful image captured with words.
I try not to think too much about what I’m writing and just let the words flow. I leave large spaces in between paragraphs to allow me to fill in holes, or add sentences or move paragraphs around. I also make notes to myself in the margin—talking to myself, in the literary form.
If I get inspired in the middle of the night, I get up and start writing. 2AM, 5AM—whatever. I write. Even if it’s just a sentence or a few words. Like if I’m watching television (rare) or walking to the kitchen (frequent) and a beautiful sentence comes into my mind, I will stop what I am doing—or about to do—and write it down. I’m not going to remember it the next day.
Sometimes, it’s bliss on a page. Sometimes the sentence is horrific, riddled with obscure details that lead to nowhere:
“Incessant sounds of cicadas shroud the maple tree next door…”
“Pangs of hunger cut through muted silence…”
And so forth.
I just let the words be: Maybe I will borrow a sentence for a future piece. Maybe I will cringe and rip a page to shreds.
But the point is, my words are written down—that’s the objective. As a writer, I’ve written many pieces in my head over the years: nonfiction, flash fiction, probably some bad poetry. So many sentences lost because they only existed in me. Now, I do whatever I can to get the words out of my head and into the world.We are always looking for great work. Have you considered submitting to Ploughshares?