Guest Post: Mike Mullin on Writing on the Run (Actually, I Usually Walk)

By Mike Mullin

I’m a nomadic writer. I figure I put over 400 miles on my boots while writing my second novel, Ashen Winter (Tanglewood, 2012).

A blogger once asked me, “Where do you write?”

“At my laptop,” I answered, somewhat flippantly.

But flippant or not, it’s true. I will gladly plop down wherever I happen to be and try to write.

My normal routine is this: I sit down at home in the morning and try to write 500 words. If I get my first 500 words, I reward myself with a walk—usually to the library eight blocks from my house. Here it is:

Gorgeous, no? And you haven’t seen the best part yet. Inside, they have hundreds of tables that seem custom-designed for nomadic writers. They even have little laptop plugs built into the reading lamps. Check it out:

I sit at one of these lovely tables and try to write another 500 words.

If I reach that goal, I get coffee—or, if it’s gotten late, lunch. One of the best coffee shops in town is six blocks from the library.

Much of Ashen Winter was written there. (Yes, Mr. Scalzi, real writers do work in coffee shops, whatever your opinion of the practice. You enjoy your quiet room at home; I’ll enjoy the pleasant hubbub at Mo’Joes. Okay? Good.) This pattern of walk a bit, write a bit may go on all day, until—on a good day—I’ve written 2,500 or more words.

I think of the walks as lubrication for my brain. (Yes, I know alcohol is the traditional brain lubricant, but alcohol just makes me sillier than normal, not more productive or creative. And does the world really need another alcoholic writer? I think not.) Very often, when I arrive at my physical destination, I’ve arrived at a mental destination, too, and know exactly what to write next.

Sometimes the inspiration is more direct. My walk to the library takes me under this tree at the President Benjamin Harrison Home:

You see how it overhangs the sidewalk? Here’s a close-up of the relevant branch:

This got me to thinking: If that were a real fence, I could easily cross it by climbing along that limb. (Thinking about ways to break into places is an old hobby. As a teen I wandered the streets of Broad Ripple in the middle of the night, breaking into schools, warehouses, and abandoned buildings, usually by climbing a downspout or nearby tree to reach the roof or an open window).

Occasionally I took friends along, but only if they’d agree to my rules:

New Voice: Mike Mullin on Ashfall

1) you can’t vandalize anything,

2) you can’t steal anything, and

3) you never break into anyplace that might be occupied.

The joy of it was getting in—not anything I did once inside.)

Anyway, that train of thought switched onto another track—if there were four feet of snow on the ground, as in Ashen Winter, that branch would enable a clever teen named, say, Alex, to exit from a beaten path without leaving any tracks. Thus, chapters 19 and 20 of Ashen Winter were conceived.

So that’s a bit more than you probably ever wanted to know about my writing process.

What about you? Are you a nomadic writer or a sedentary one? Do you love or despise coffee-shop writers?

Let me know in the comments, please.

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Mike Mullin on Writing on the Run (Actually, I Usually Walk)

  1. Fun post. I like how you reward yourself with walks to cool destinations.

    We have a great trail that runs behind our house. I work out most of the kinks in my plot/character while hoofing it on this trail. I do worry about how sedentary my days become, so I might try your method!

    I'm a coffee shop writer on the weekends when my wild child take over the house. Love working there.

  2. Mike, Thanks for sharing your writing process. I think it's great! And it certainly seems to work for you. I usually do my best right when I wake up and write lying down in bed on my side while I still remember what it was I wanted to write.
    Then I get up quickly and write some more downstairs in my chair. I usually do my best with pen and paper and transcribe it to my laptop later.

    There, now you probably know more about me than you wanted to know. 🙂

  3. It's amazing what a little fresh air and space away from writing will do for your novel. Often times I write myself into a hole. I write until the ideas run almost dry–and take a walk to replenish my creativity.

    Unfortnately, I'm not as routined in my walks as you are. Sometimes I realize I haven't left my apartment in two days–the downfall to working from home. At this point, I have to force myself to walk the 30 minutes to the library.

  4. My walks to and from home to the bus stop and the bus stop to werk are good times for me to ruminate over parts of The Book that aren't working. There have been many factors in building The Book, and walking has been essential.

    Caffeine helps, too. : )

    — Tom

  5. @Beth — I wish I had a trail close. I like walking in the woods much better than downtown Indiananpolis.

    @clarbojahn — I sometimes jot down a few notes in bed before I get up, but I do all my writing at my laptop. I hate handwriting like dogs hate the mailman.

    @Sarah-Ann — walks are like to writers as wands are to magicians, aren't they?

    @Tom — How did the world function before caffeine? Poorly, I imagine.

  6. Thanks for sharing your writing process. I get some of my best ideas walking or driving. I love the idea of writing in a coffee shop, but there are some days that my attention span is too jumpy for that (although, truth be told, on those days I don't write well at home either).

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