“If you find yourself coming up with a list of reasons why it’s not possible for you to get started on that book you say you’ve been wanting to write, you probably don’t want to write it badly enough.”
(This article was originally published on the Rainwater Press website in 1996.)
Many people ask me how I go about writing a book. I have a very simple philosophy on how to approach the writing process. It’s called the Butt to Chair Philosophy. Here’s how it works: You put your butt in the chair and you start writing. You stay in the chair and keep writing until your butt hurts. You may get out of the chair for short periods of time such as when you have to pee or if it’s been more than 24 hours since you’ve last eaten or slept. Otherwise, keep your butt in the chair and don’t stop writing until you are finished with whatever it is you set out to write.
After I tell people about my Butt to Chair Philosophy, they laugh the appropriate length of time, then ask for my real answer on how to write a book. That is my real answer. It seems like an oversimplification of the writing process but what it boils down to is making writing a priority in your life. It’s about making a choice between watering the plants or organizing your files or cleaning your house or taking care of your children or working at some other job and writing. You can’t write and do something else at the same time, no matter how important or urgent the other thing may be. You have to make the decision to not do a lot of other things so that you can put your butt in the chair and keep writing until your head hurts and you begin to feel droplets of blood oozing from the pores in your forehead. (You might also find you enjoy this sort of thing but that’s a topic for an entirely different essay.)
I’m sorry to be impatient, but people who say they want to write yet who offer excuses for why they are not actually writing remind me of when our youngest son was three years old and he would try to get out of eating his broccoli. He never actually said he didn’t want to eat his broccoli. He instead came up with all sorts of reasons why he couldn’t pick up his fork and put the piece of broccoli in his mouth at that moment in time. He had to take a drink of milk. He had to go to the bathroom. He had to get his blankie. He had to eat his garlic bread first. He had to tell me something important. He had to have a different fork.
If you find yourself coming up with a list of reasons why it’s not possible for you to get started on that book you say you’ve been wanting to write, you probably don’t want to write it badly enough.
On the other hand, some nights our son would surprise us and actually eat his broccoli. He always started by putting his butt in the chair.
Your book will never get written unless you first put your butt in the chair. If your butt is not in the chair you probably don’t want to write that book, even if you say you do.
I am not your mother, but if you ask me how to write a book, I will tell you to put your butt in the chair, pick up your fork, and start writing.