Writing Lessons: Rachel McCain

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

black and white portrait of Rachel McCainFact: 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.