Friday Speak Out!: How to Drop the Preamble and Get Writing

Friday, August 03, 2018
by Katey Schultz

I used to be a big fan of taking my time. I loved free-writing morning pages by hand in my journal, then reading a few stories by a favorite author, then thumbing through old story drafts before actually starting to write new material. But becoming a new mother forced me to drop the preamble, and it’s working.

My decision to “drop the preamble” began one January at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, which hosts a week-long, by-invitation, artist residency called Pentaculum. In 2017, I attended with my 7-week old infant son. Without the pressures of work deadlines, each time my son napped, I turned immediately to the blank page. I never knew how long I’d have to write, so I didn’t waste a moment. To my surprise, I found I could be highly productive, without the preamble.

The first thing you need if you’re ready to write anytime, anywhere, without the preamble, is a willingness to play. To be imperfect. To simply delight in the few minutes you grab to type into your phone while in line at the grocery store, or the fifteen minutes you journal before bed (even as your eyes are half-shut), or the chores you skip on Sunday afternoon in order to finish a revision on that story you’re determined to submit to a contest. When you give yourself permission to play, you take some of the pressure off of yourself, and guess what? Often, your writing improves.

For me, sometimes play takes the form of a concrete, singular task. I might set a word count goal for myself (400 words in 1 hour, say). But if I’m tired or uninspired, word counts are too intimidating. I’ll work with existing work instead: Revise one scene. Re-read one draft and make annotations for revisions I’d like to tackle during my son’s next nap. However you feel that day, that moment, make the decision swiftly, and get to the desk. Keep it light. If it gets heavy, walk away and come back after later.

The second thing you need in order to be productive without the preamble, is gentle accountability. Not phone alarms or deadlines or “if this, then that.” But a simple, pleasurable way to check in with a greater literary community at regular intervals, so that the conversation of writing stays present in your life. Writing is hard enough. Enjoyable, yes, but also--let’s be honest--hard work. So many writers I mentor make it harder for themselves by acting as their own biggest bullies. But bullying doesn’t help in any sustainable way.

Live webinars are, even to this Luddite introvert, a surprisingly effective way to feel supported (rather than isolated), without taking a lot of of your time. If you’re new to “dropping the preamble,” I suggest a livestream class because the accountability--however gentle--is, in fact, real.

Community helps writers know they’re not alone. That others are eager to learn. That others set goals and fall short, or set goals and exceed them. That, for those of us in this for fun and the long haul, the slow and steady approach is what’s going to help us find our best words. We can drop the preamble, and still find a way to be beautifully imperfect. We can still be successful and have fun--with a touch of gentle accountability--all at the same time.

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Katey Schultz's story collection, Flashes of War, was awarded IndieFab Book of the Year and received a Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America. She has won more than half a dozen flash fiction contests, been awarded writing fellowships in 8 states, and is currently seeking a publisher for her novel set in Afghanistan. Her newest online program, Airstream Dispatches: a worldwide book club for writers, brings together a group of dedicated creatives who want accountability, craft-based instructional writing prompts, and the community of other writers to feel supported and "seen." Explore her online classes, ecourses, and writing at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Katey--Good luck finding a home for your Afghanistan story.

I joined a writing accountability group last February. When we began we set one big goal we wanted to achieve by the end of the year. Every week we are supposed to weekly report our progress from the week before, and set a new (small and obtainable) goal.

The group has helped immeasurably. The members nudge me. They keep me writing every week towards my ultimate goal. They make sure I don't just talk the talk, I also walk the walk.

Thanks for this post. It reminded me how grateful I am for my writing colleagues...

Joanne said...

Wonderful article. Love the concrete steps you suggest to drop the preamble. I'd love to share this as a handout with people in my writing class/retreat. If you are willing to share, do I need permission just from you, or from WOW as well? I'd of course include a permission/acknowledgment. Alternatively, I could share the link...I welcome your guidance. Thanks!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Katey ~ I love the advice of making decisions swiftly and keeping it light. We often get bogged down in deciding what to do, or spend so much time doing one thing that we're burnt out the next day. Or at least I do, anyway! So it's a nice reminder.

Your bio is great, and I checked out your site! I love your slogan "Wake up. Kick ass. Repeat." :) I'm in the "Butt Kicking Persistent Pencil Pushers" accountability group that Sioux started, and I agree that having fun with accountability nudges is the way to go. I don't write much fiction these days... Are you ever going to do a book club that focuses all on nonfiction/memoir? I'd be into that!

Good luck on your Afghanistan novel! Your story collection sounds amazing. Thanks for the post! :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Joanne ~ WOW doesn't take any rights to writer's work, so Katey will be able to answer your question about permission. :)

Joanne said...

Thanks, Angela. I'll wait to hear from Katey.

Katey Schultz said...

J. Glenn: Apologies for the delay in my reply! Please reach out to me at katey[dot]schultz@gmail[dot]com and I'm happy to create a hand out!

Katey Schultz said...

Angela - Thanks for checking out my site and relating to the footer (wake up, kick ass, repeat!). I'd like to join the Facebook group you mention. I'll search for it, but perhaps you can send me an invite as well? And yes, several of the titles we're reading in Airstream Dispatches (the worldwide book club for writers) WILL be memoir and creative nonfiction. My MFA is actually in that genre and I love teaching about it! I can't reach you by email through a comment but I'd love it if you'd reply to me by email at katey[dot]schultz@gmail[dot]com. Thanks!

Katey Schultz said...

Sioux - I'm excited about the Facebook group you're describing. Thanks for your kind comment and I hope to "see" you in the group!

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