In a strange twist of either delusions of grandeur or masochism, writers have done their best to convince the world that writing is a wondrous pursuit filled with nothing but sudden bursts of inspiration and creativity after painful writer’s block.
You know how it goes in the movies and on TV: The morose writer will be walking down the street and a stranger will say to them, “Hey, jerkwad, what are you staring at?” and then the writer will get a funny little smile and walk a little faster and then pretty soon they’re skipping down the street toward their typewriter shouting, “Jerkwad! Jerkwad!! BY GOD I’VE GOT IT!!!!” and then there’s a montage of them frantically typing out their future bestseller.
I don’t know about your writing process, but that isn’t how mine works.
Sure, there are Eureka moments walking down the street or in the shower or while at the zoo (“Monkeys… MONKEYS!!!”), but if novelists wrote only when they were inspired it would take a hundred years to string together a novel. If you’re really going to finish one, you’re not only going to have to spend quite a lot of time writing and revising when you don’t feel like it, you’re going to have to spend quite a lot of time writing when you would rather be lighting your toes on fire.
The great Jane Yolen has a name for this: BIC. Butt. In. Chair. That is the writing process. Butt in chair.
You could also call it:
OMGTWISNTBICGOBINTW: “Oh my god the weather is so nice today but I can’t go outside because I need to write.”
IRWICGTTBGBIHTW: “I really wish I could go to that baseball game but I have to write.”
DMMIJGTSATBCSUITOS: “Don’t mind me, I’m just going to stare at this blank computer screen until I think of something.”
Just about everyone on the planet thinks about writing a novel at some point. Many of them really could and many of them could do it really well.
But there’s only one way to actually do it: BIC. Powering through when you want to stop, blocking out days on the calendar when there are more fun things you could be doing, staring at the pad or screen early mornings and late nights, and most of all, setting aside your doubts along the way.
And that’s of course even before you summon your willpower to try and jump through the hoops necessary to get the thing published.
If writing is always fun you may be doing it wrong.
Perhaps I’m just delusional, but I really think my procrastination time is as important as my writing time if I balance it correctly. My ideas notebook is all crinkly and half the writing is almost illegible due to treadmill, beach and shower scribbling. There are times when I have to acknowledge things have become farcical (I live in the Middle East and actually watched a soap opera in Arabic yesterday- I don’t speak Arabic) but on the whole downtime can be rather fruitful.
It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I will admit, however, that there is nothing quite like forcing yourself to push through a seemingly solid wall and making it out the other side. Then you can start on the next wall.
Pip Hunn says
There's a nail quivering in a metaphorical board somewhere, going
"Huh? What was that that just smacked my head with such a powerful vigour?"
Nice article. So what are your writing projects? Sharesies?
There are a few more acronyms I'd sugest, but I'll limit myself to one –
Oh, Hang On, I Need To Recode My Entire Website.
That's me done…. Oh. Wait.
Shut Up, Kids, I'm Trying To Write – What – Yes, Dear, I'll Go Play With Them.
Thanks Nathan , your post reminds me not to get spooked by all the writer /bloggers out there who are constantly purging themselves of fully realised and divinely profound novels etc . The 'butt' should have time to grow and develop long before the ego .
K.L. Brady says
I don't know about other writers but BIC would be a lot easier to accomplish if I had SFF (Supportive Friends and Family). I think I'm the only writer in my family and among my friend circle, so they don't get this whole writing "thing." They don't get why or how you barricade yourself in your house for an entire sunny weekend because you need to get more chapters in. Or why when they call to tell you about their latest drama, you can't always answer the phone. Or why you may be out of touch for periods of time. All this for a "hobby." Sometimes they make you feel bad for not being there or rub it in your face when you missed out. uggghhhh.
I've come to the conclusion that I need more writers in my life. And I'll need to marry an artist of some kind. Someone who understands and can relate to my BIC insanity.
If people can do it really well why is my stuff always awful when I review it? BIC – Butt on seat and COS – Crap on screen!!
Claire Dawn says
The internet was down at work yesterday. So I had oodles of free time and nothing to do. (Essential Japan pays me and often gives me nothing to do.) So I reread my novel, which I'm in the process of editing.
My neighbour was like "Why would you read your own novel?"
Clearly, he thinks a novel just jumps out and gets published on a first draft.
Emily Cross says
Thank you for this post Nathan!!
and the comments too! Many times I've seen on forums etc where people have said a]they absolutely love writing and it's so much fun etc. b] If you're not having fun you should stop writing!
"If writing is always fun you may be doing it wrong."
This shall be my refute forever more!!
Rob Crompton says
The eureka moment helps and may even be almost essential. But it's of little value if it occurs somewhere remote from the writing desk so that by the time you get there the mood has gone. So, yes, BIC.
The best part is when, after the slog of painfully developing an idea into something that has some momentum, the process of writing itself generates the eureka moments.
Kate Evangelista says
I get what you mean! Every time I put together a query letter and press the send button, I always get so stressed that I feel like puking. Man, anyone who thinks writing can be easy has some more thinking to do.
Renee Miller says
I find writing the rough draft fun. You don't have to force me to sit in the chair on a nice day. I want to do it. If my kids and the dogs and the damn telemarketers that call 700 times a day would leave me alone, it would be even better.
As someone said above, the part that isn't fun is rewriting. That's when I have to force myself to sit down and do it. The writing part, yes anyone can do it. But only the truly devoted (and perhaps talented) can sit down and rewrite it into something worth reading.
Philip Pullman said
I don't know where my ideas come from, but I do know where they come *to* : they come to my desk; and if I'm not sitting at my desk, well then they go away again
I've also seen BICHOK around the interwebs a lot (Bum in chair, hands on keyboard) but I quite like Bryce Courtenay's phrase "bum glue."
Thanks Nathan. You summed up my vibe this morning. I'm up early to revise and…not so into it. But I love Jane Yolen. And she's right. Right? I'm pretty sure. She must be. Right?
I've been suffering from DMMIJGTSATBCSUITOS a lot recently.
Sam Albion says
I'm sure the greatest strength of a writer should be… talent…
as my Momma used to say- "ten dollars love you long time"… hang on… as my Momma used to say "you can't make a silk purse from a sows' ear"…
unfortunately, my greatest strength is… producing cabbage scented farts so strong my neighbours occasionaly call in the bomb squad. Apparently the stench is so great next-door-but-one thought I was producing mustard gas, and they've started greeting me in the street, not with "Yo Sam", but "Yo, O-Sama"… Maybe I should trim my beard…
Adventures in Children's Publishing says
Love all the new acronyms. I have adopted Butt in Chair myself. Frequently. But the toughest part of BIC is the closely-related Butt in Chair without Clicking Out of Word to Twitter, Blog, Facebook or Email. BUCWCOOWTTBFOE is complicated by the fact that I love reading entertaining posts like this one on how to write more productively.
If I were a crowd, I'd be going wild right now.
This was perfect.
I must be revising right because it ain't no fun … at all. Ugh. I want to be done.
Ishta Mercurio says
Or how about IKTKARHBIRHTW: I know the kids are really hungry, but I really have to write.
K.L. Brady says
@Mary MacDonald–that is a great link to the Write or Die Dr. Wicked software. I'm buying the desktop version and I'm going to post it on my blog. Great find!
Jerkwad zombie vampires. Hmm…
Other Lisa, Natalie, Nathan: this is Anon@2:43. Thanks, you've all expanded on what I was trying to say. It's easy to become so obsessed with the BIC mentality that you burn yourself out. As Other Lisa said, don't rush the creative process. Impatience can suck all the joy out of writing. Give your brain a rest when necessary. Not only will your work will improve, but your overall well-being will, too.
The tricky part is separating the times when you are just being lazy from the times when you honestly need to take a break. It's a lot like a gym membership. There are times when you may flirt with the idea of skipping the gym, but force yourself to go and are glad you did once you get there. Then there times when you know you need to stay home and rest because you're truly exhausted and would probably lift incorrectly and hurt yourself. Separating the two times is where the self-discipline kicks in.
That goes to show my Willpower could use a bump (or two). Or is it my Faith that needs it? No matter, I've not written a single creative string of words other than a couple of transcendental poems (where's that market?).
But that's not what is bothering me today. What is bothering me today is THE ROAD: A Comedic Translation (Part 5) posted on The Millions. Part 5, mind you! Why oh why?
Needless to say I do not see the comedic/entertaining value therein, rather find such work sacrilegious. If they (any 'they') will poke fun at Cormac McCarthy's best work to date… why write at all?
Sheri Larsenッ says
OM…with summer on its way, your OMGTWISNTBICGOBINTW totally got me!! And with the kids bellowing at the top of their lungs it will be hard. I'll just have to exercise BIC. ";-)
Yes yes yes, BIC every night. Even if productivity doesn't rear it's beautiful head, I assume the position!! Thanks again for encouraging all of us.
There's no substitute for hard work.
Kelly Wittmann says
Another great post, and you couldn't be more right. The best feeling in the world for a writer is that "After BIC" feeling.
Brent Peterson says
Love it. My new motto! May I suggest BIC be coupled with QYB for BICQYB… But In Chair Quit Your Browser.
I need more willpower to keep myself from surfing. I've had to resort to unplugging my internet connection. Also, love the bridge visual – that's exactly what it feels like – Brent
Moira Young says
Ooops, I just realized that link didn't work.
Here you go, Nathan. ^__^
And this is why I love this blog. When I'm feeling like a failure, Nathan shows me that I am not alone – that others are going through the same process as me. Thanks!
Simon C. Larter says
"If writing is always fun you may be doing it wrong."
Perfect quote. Sometimes it hurts. When it hurts is when I feel like I'm doing my best work.
I can do the BIC. I've been a want-to-be-writer for decades. I just wish I could get past the ugly doubts and insecurities.
Julie Hedlund says
Too hilarious! Thanks for making me laugh today. Nice antidote for those days when I spend hours (and I do mean hours) on just a handful of verses.
Laura Marcella says
I'm constantly reminding myself to get my BIC! Sometimes (ok, all the time!) I want my words to come out perfectly in all the right places the first time. Since that never happens, I struggle to get my rear on my zebra-striped chair to write no matter how I'm feeling.
BIC. BIC. BIC. Repeat! Oh, all right I'll get back to writing now. 🙂
Elspeth Antonelli says
DMMIJGTSATBCSUITOS: "Don't mind me, I'm just going to stare at this blank computer screen until I think of something."
This is me, 98% of the time – or at least, it FEELS like 98%. Realistically? Probably 97%.
David Kubicek says
Strangely, I've never heard it put like that, but from now on BIC will have a place on a sign above my computer.
Ah, such good advice. Now I just need this telepathically sent to my brain every morning when I wake up.
Mary McDonald,what an awesome site. I'd never heard of Write or Die, but I just went there on kamakazie/evil for ten minutes and it does delete your words! But I got alot out of my brain, so it was wonderful!
Scarlettprose, you are right on. No one wants BGB! Excercize is awesome for inspiration and calorie burning.
Writing for me is like treasure hunting. You do a lot of digging and sift a lot of dirt, but inside you have a hunch there's treasure "in these parts". Then, you hear the metallic sound of iron on precious metal and off you go collecting whatever it is you've found. Sometimes it's close to what you were looking for, other times not so much. But it's all valuable to some degree, nonetheless.
That's why I have to thank you, Nathan, for helping me pull together what I've been trying to say with my latest book. It wasn't exactly from your message, but you mentioned "willpower" and that got me digging around the word. What I found underneath was very, very valuable.
If you dig enough, you find. The more you find, the more you know there is more to find. That not only gets your butt in the chair, it makes you carve out the most precious commodity of all––time––to do it.
Kimberly Kincaid says
Okay, I'm late to the party (again)- I actually had my BIC in the emergency room yesterday with one of my kidlings (she's fine, and learned a valuable lesson: playing human bobsled in a laundry basket is darn fun…but not smart).
I read that when Sara Gruen was writing Water for Elephants, at one point she literally locked herself in a closet with her laptop for hours on end so she could work on it. It was that, she said, or not work on it at all. Butt in Chair in Closet (BICIC!) worked for her.
When I tell people that I write novels, they get all excited at the sheer glamour of it, which kills me. Once I tell them that I do the majority of my writing in my pajamas, with coffee stains on my notes, my hair in a sloppy ponytail and my ratty slippers on, it loses its charm for them. But not for me. That's what makes it so wonderful. And awful. And everything in between.
Oh- the line about writing being fun all the time? Yeah. Totally on a Post It over my monitor. That's ripped from the fabric of sheer awesome, right there 🙂
Must admit I do not do BIC enough. But for now…eh. Writing's important but not utmost priority. Another 2.5 or so months and there shall be a summer consisting largely of writing. And after, well, we'll see how university goes.
Internet hive mind! (I just posted about this.)
Willpower, stamina, resilience. Just a few of the qualities that help you keep going.
Hmm. Was waiting for the part about then needing willpower to withstand all the "I regret that" messages or weeks of waiting for no response at all from literary agents…
MB Dabney says
You are right, of course. I didn't see your post until today but it was what I needed yesterday, a day I suffered through a pity-party. Oh boo-woo.
So today I decided that yesterday was a Personal Day, and today I am back to work. Writing is a job, and you can't get it done unless you show up for work.
Today is a work day.
Seven N Blue says
If writing is fun you may be doing it wrong…he he…or something like that…
Yeap! For me, BIC is the hardest but once I am sitting and write my first paragraph, I am off and I just can't believe I was having a BIC crisis just five minutes ago!
Glad to hear others feel the same! Yay!
So what you're trying to say is that I can no longer use the excuse of being distracted by shiny things? That's it's really just all up to me and my bum and my chair and my computer?
Am going to need a comfier chair cushion….looks like me and my chair are about to become one.
I don’t quite understand this post. Maybe it is humorous but I don’t get it. Writing has always been fun for me. Although it is a short while that I’m thinking of publishing, writing itself has been my happy place since I was ten, and I’m thirty seven now. I don’t recall one moment that writing was dull or that I would rather do something else. I have to summon willpower to get up and do something else. Whatever you say I’m doing wrong, it’s so delicious I’m going to keep doing it wrong!
The Red Angel says
You make me feel MUCH better about myself as a writer, Nathan. :] I absolutely love writing and always have, but there are just some days when I simply don't feel like doing it. I get guilty about that sometimes, but your post makes me feel a lot better about that.
And I do have those EUREKA! I'VE GOT IT! moments but they don't come around TOO often. So it is very special indeed when they do. 🙂 And then I write right like crazy.
A. MEN. Writing has been one cardboard cookie after another for me lately. My muse has taken an extended vacay and left me here without her. Unacceptable, I tell you! If I wait for her to be back, there may be 200 books like mine published before I even finish my rough draft, so onward I go. BIC. Yeah, I need to practice more of that. Well, more BIC, less BICIFOT (Butt In Chair In Front Of Television).
Andrea Franco-Cook says
Great post Nathan. You captured the true journey of a writer. I can relate to every word.
The last bit of this talk is relevant to BIC: