For more than a decade we have had a saying in our house that everyone knows and uses each day. It’s only 3 small words, but it has been the thing that has gotten all of us through any long, arduous task. That saying is “Butt in chair.” Butt in chair simply means sit down and get to work. Show up every day to do the thing, and eventually you’ll get to where you want to be.
I believe that if you break large tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces you can achieve anything. This is how I have always tackled my writing career. I sit down virtually every day and write. I have done that for more than a dozen years now. At first I didn’t get much accomplished, but over the years I have honed my ability to focus and put words on the page. Now I can write a book in less than 6 weeks.
Once you get the habit of “butt in chair” here are a few other things I do to make sure my writing time is productive:
- Lower the blinds. The room doesn’t need to be dark, but I prefer not to have the distractions of what is going on outside my window.
- Wear headphones. The key for me is to make a playlist that I can listen to while I write and I listen to that same thing every day. The headphones drown out ambient noise, and listening to the same music over and over is familiar and doesn’t interrupt my writing thoughts because the songs are so recognizable to my ears.
- Prepare your thoughts BEFORE you sit in the chair. I spend about 30 minutes laying in bed or in the shower thinking about what I need to write that morning before I even head to my office. Before I quit the corporate job I would spend my commute time thinking about what I was going to write that evening.
- Read as much as you can. Fiction, non-fiction, comic books….really anything you can get your hands on. I’ve found that the constant input of words and seeing how others tell stories has helped hone my skills over the years. I can clearly define what I like and why, as well as what I don’t care for and how I do not want to tell a story. Without all the extra input, I find that harder to do.
- Have a critique group that is honest, helpful, AND produces. The first two are important, but over the years I’ve found that the last piece is actually the most important. Surround yourself with people that are producing writing, not just stuck in an endless editing process and never ship their work out.
- Befriend the rejection letter. I have always kept track of how many rejection letters I’ve gotten. Receiving these letters is part of the process, and it means that you are actively trying to share your work. The overnight success story is actually VERY rare. Most people have been writing in some way for years before their work is picked up by a publisher or agent. If you can accept that rejection is guaranteed, you may be less likely to stop writing because you learn not to take it personally.
- Keep track of how many words you write. I have always had a spreadsheet of my words per day totals. It’s fun to see how over the years that number gets bigger and bigger just by continuing to work on the craft. Without spending any extra time, you’ll see your output increase if you’re putting your butt in the chair daily.
- Know that some days are just harder than others. If you’ve sat down and tried to write as much as you can, some days that’s good enough. Often the muddy middle of a book can be a slog. Just keep swimming as the fish Dory from Nemo says. Keep showing up and doing the work. Eventually it gets easier!
- Find a community. Whether it’s online or in person, or both, it is so helpful to talk with other writer’s who are experiencing similar things. Once a year I get together with a group of my writer friends for a week of feedback, brainstorming, and sharing stories. I look forward to it every year. It’s a great energy boost and I get so many great ideas from our conversations.
- Think of writing as your job (whether it’s your only source of income or not). Other people will always want a piece of your time, but make writing a priority. Even if that means just 30 minutes a day of scheduled writing time. Make your schedule and stick to it just like you would a work schedule. Plus, people are way more likely to understand why you’ve declined some invitation if you say “No thanks, I have to work.”
I hope you’ve find these tips helpful. Are there other things that you do that have helped progress your writing career? Leave me a comment and share them with me.