After reading this book, I’m done telling aspiring writers who struggle to try the BIC (Butt in Chair) method, or to “just write.” Now I’ve both heard and dispensed this advice. A lot. But now I finally get why it’s often ineffective, frustrating, and downright unhelpful.
First of all: obviously, yes, writing is essential to the writing process. But aspiring authors already know that, right? And yet, for some reason they’re not doing it. So wouldn’t it make more sense to ask gently about that reason? Rather than just repeating what they know?
Having been an aspiring-but-not-writing type myself once, I can remember how bad I felt about my own failure to do the thing I claimed to love best. My ambivalence about writing was part of a self-doubt loop. I want to write, and I know I should write, but I don’t write. So… what does that say about me? Nothing good, I was convinced at the time.
And I remember what I mentally heard whenever some writing expert would explain, in his bestselling book or keynote lecture, that the key is to “just write”:
Quit yer whining. Writing’s easy, all you have to do is hold out your arms like The Mummy and wiggle your fingers in front of your keyboard, and presto: novels. What’s the matter, are you too stupid to know what to do or too lazy to do it?
That’s not what they meant. (Probably.) But that was my interpretation, because that’s how bad and self-hatey I was already feeling about the fact that I wasn’t writing my books. And after hearing their advice, I was still stuck in the same place. It didn’t help me.
What authors are really trying to say often gets lost in the listener’s own pain, as it did for me. You see, authors never lose their ambivalence and fear, not fully. But we understand and accept it as part of the creative process. To a fellow author who gets that but has momentarily forgotten it, BIC can be a comforting, almost ritualistic reminder. But to someone creating for the first time, it can sound like a taunt.
If you’ve been interpreting BIC-style advice with the same self-flagellating bias as I was, let me translate the message most writers are trying to send when they deliver the dreaded Nike motto:
Hey, you know what? We all struggle with it. Daring to write in our own voices is hard. It terrifies us all, even the award winners and best sellers. It’s not just you who feels unworthy, confused, overwhelmed. Have faith that even on the days when your inspiration is being choked by doubt, you can sit down in that chair and call on your subconscious to share something you didn’t even know was there. On some level it’s a decision. The decision to sit in that blasted chair and re-open that blasted document and set your blasted egg timer for 10 blasted minutes of writing (because 15 sounds too intimidating*)? That stuff symbolizes the real decision—the decision to take yourself seriously.
*I did this today.