Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Cat Rambo.
Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches atop a hill in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her second novel, Hearts of Tabat, appears in 2017 from Wordfire Press. She is a frequent volunteer with and current President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. She teaches a series of online classes for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see http://www.kittywumpus.net.
Cat Rambo's newest collection of short fiction, Neither Here Nor There, was published in December 2016. It includes some of her best fantasy works in the same format as her previous collection, Near + Far, a la the old Ace double-sided books.
Social Media Links
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Neither-Here-Nor-There-600207290114211/
Book on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Neither-Here-Nor-There-Rambo/dp/0989082873/&tag=rs_article-20
Book on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Neither-Here-Nor-There-Rambo/dp/0989082873/
Book on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33280674-neither-here-nor-there
GUEST POST: Daily Rituals by Cat Rambo
I get up in the morning and make my coffee in my Chemex, grinding beans fresh and adding a little cinnamon, a drop of vanilla. I eat the same thing every morning: unflavored Greek yogurt, sometimes home-made, more often storebought. And then I go write by hand for an hour, in my notebook, before I open my email or social media. Throughout the day, I take breaks from writing stints, devoting myself to a bout of email from a particular mailbox, or checking in on the SFWA discussion boards. I walk at some point in the afternoon if weather permits, and it’s not an amble, but a solid, steady pace with a soundtrack provided by my headphones and at least a couple of hills to tackle.
This is a practice that has evolved over the twelve years since I left my job at Microsoft in order to write fulltime. It hasn’t been easy; there’s been periods where things, including depression, PTSD, and illness, skewed my practice and drove it into the land of non-existent wordcount and wading through a miasma of daily guilt so thick and black I almost choked on it.
The thing I have learned more than anything else is that a writer must defend their time. That everyone assumes that you’re ready to take a break, come down to the coffee shop and kill a couple of hours. A friend complained to my husband that he felt as though I was timing our encounters, and I was. At the hour mark, I needed to get back to work, because otherwise I’d sit there nattering for far too long. Because you must defend that time not just from others, but from yourself and your own human tendencies toward procrastination and farting around on the Internet, while still being mindful that you do deserve a break every once in a while. You become your own manager, and that is a more difficult task than it might seem.
I keep trying to fail forward. To find the things that get in my way and remove them. To set realistic goals. To not sabotage or overcommit myself. To learn how to triage away the inconsequential and unnecessary. In all of this a routine helps. What am I supposed to be doing right now? It’s 8:30. I should be writing fiction. It’s 1:00, time to be working on things connected to my school. It’s the evening and I’ve made my wordcount plus did a couple of things I needed to do. Now I can relax and not worry; anything I get accomplished on my laptop in the evening as my spouse and I are hanging out is a delicious bonus.
There is an image of writers as fuzzy-headed, absent-minded creatures who sometimes are so oblivious to their surroundings that they walk off cliffs or encounter other disasters unless cared for. This is, in my experience, not accurate, although I will admit that, catch me deep in a book or writing, and a fire alarm could be going off without my awareness for at least a few minutes. Nowadays I meet savvy writers, cagey writers, writers who understand that they are not going to encounter some kindly figure that will take an interest in their career and help them build it, and that those who wait for someone like that will remain waiting for quite some time, plaintively exclaiming, “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.” Writers who take control, using the tools that they have.
Your daily ritual is such a tool, a thing that helps you make things happen and keeps you on track. Don’t make it so eccentric that it’s an impediment, dependent on things that you have no control over. Build healthy habits into it if you can, like my Greek yogurt and daily walk. Incorporate inspiration, listening to music or looking at art (or making it). Keep perfecting it, figuring out how to fine-tune it while adhering to its core. Discard parts of it as you need to, but add useful things in their place.