Down with BIC: Why “Butt in Chair” Isn’t THE Answer

“The first secret to good writing is BIC. Butt In Chair.”

Among writers there is an endless list of endorsements for this allegedly clever statement. The precept is ingrained to such a deep degree into the collective subconscious of writers the world over that it is held by many to be as sacrosanct as writers must read.

Yet, it isn’t. In fact, in many ways, “BIC” is as unhelpful as it is trite and uninspired.

Don’t misunderstand me. A truth is the backbone of this platitude; a writer must write a lot and on a regular basis. No piece will write itself after all, and there can be many things to distract the writer any given hour from accomplishing his task. Such distractions must not take over, especially if deadlines are involved. I question, however, if BIC is the panacea it is made out to be.

Good habits are fine, but I know that I don’t feel productive when I force my restless, exhausted or uncertain self to sit in silence in front of the computer squeezing prose out of my mind like an ape with a missing finger struggling to squeeze toothpaste out of a near empty tube onto a brush. I would venture to guess that many of you feel the same way.

Even if taking yourself hostage like this is helpful to you though, wouldn’t it be nice to be gentler with yourself than BIC allows?

I don’t always wait for inspiration to strike before I start writing, yet I certainly don’t confine myself to my chair without fail the same time every single day beating prose into existence by typing anything at all until heaven decides to reward me for BICing. Writing is hard enough, and if I let one part of me put a gun to my head as the other part is attempting to write something, I’ll learn to hate writing.

So what do I do? Many of you might cringe to know it, but I will tell you anyway.

I do put my butt in the chair eventually.  Then I get up, walk around and sit back down. If I know what I want to say next, I write it. Yet if I don’t yet know, I’ll check my email. If an idea is forming but not yet fully realized in my mind, I don’t shove it under the center stage lights and command it to do a dance it doesn’t know.  Instead I’ll often lay in my bed, (or more often on the floor) and sort of meditate on the embryonic sequence of sentences that is coming into existence in my mind. This meditation may be silent, but it may also involve me walking up and down the hallway listening to music.

Or it might not be a meditation at all, and instead involve me going back and forth between the writing and seeing what is going on in my Twitter feed. Then blasphemy of all writing blasphemies I sometimes give up for the day without having written anything.

As you can see, when I write I spend a great deal of time doing things that many writers consider sinful distractions from the craft. Yet I have almost never missed a deadline, either self-imposed or from an editor.

Writing is a different process for each writer. For me there is a point beyond which it cannot be forced. Like a long garden hose being dragged across the lawn, it must be coaxed so that it doesn’t get knotted into itself. My ideas sometimes must be guided through different moments, eased around corners, and unwound from  obstructions.  If I just ran head long into it each and every time and adopted BIC, coupled by the philosophy of  “write, damn you!” intrinsic in such an approach, the resultant knot would be too ponderous for even Alexender the Great to cut his way out of.

BIC may be your way, and you are no less of a writer than I if it is. Yet I think that approach has been somewhat deified. If you are made a better writer, or merely receive comfort from The Church of BIC, I encourage you to attend same. However just as there is more than one church in the world, there is more than one path to productive writing, and nobody should feel beholden to BIC. Only you know how your mind works under given circumstances. Only you can decide the best way to encourage your creativity. BIC isn’t dogma, no matter what anyone tells you.

Being able to give yourself permission to express truth with your own words. That is the goal of writing. If you can accomplish that more often than not and keep your obligations, you are doing what you need to do to succeed.


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