Some Blasphemous Words

How many writers have heard the term, “butt in chair” or “you can’t fix a blank page”? Basically, terms related to the discipline of writing. In order to be productive, to improve, make deadlines, and have a chance at publishing, you have to write. Consistently. Now, I’m not saying I disagree with this. If you want a writing career, you have to create content and do it on a regular basis. I’ve read many a blog post, tweet, and so on talking about this subject. Thinking up ideas is all fine and dandy but it doesn’t do you a bit of good if you don’t get it down on paper. The thing is, not everyone, in my opinion, is built to be productively creative on a daily basis.

The other day, my local writer’s group (Maumee Valley Chapter of Romance Writers of America) was discussing writer burnout. One of our writers presented, who has been struggling with being able to face the page and write. We talked about a lot of things related to being creative, specifically, what affects it in a negative way. Life tends to impinge on a lot of things we like to do, from family to work to our own physical and/or emotional issues. Occasionally, they sap our emotional energies so much that being creative is pretty much impossible. The well is dry. I for one, completely believe in the notion of creativity being a thing that ebbs and flows, a tank that can fill up and run empty. If you are tapped out, putting your butt in the chair is a waste of time.

Yep, I said it. Sometimes writing every day, no matter what, is not the best thing to do. In fact, I think it can be counterproductive. Attempting to force yourself, just putting down words for the sake of putting down words, even if it’s crap and will be edited later, can not only be a waste of time, but have a negative impact. When the mindset isn’t there, you’re better of doing things that will help refill that well of creativity. Sometimes it means just stepping away from writing all together for a time, a day, a week, or even a month. There have been times when I’ve gone two or three months without looking at the blank page. I read, play computer games, spend time with the kids, all manner of things that have little or nothing to do with writing. Sometimes it means dealing with something that is causing stress in my life. Regardless, I’ve come to be comfortable with the fact that it’s okay to not write at times. I’m far more proficient and efficient when the energy is there to do the writing.  I’ll know the well is getting full when the ideas start coming up during all times of the day, and more importantly, I want to open up Word and get those words on the page.

So, if the will and energy isn’t there, step away. Don’t frustrate yourself or make yourself feel like less of a writer because you can’t get the words out. Do what you need to get back in a more positive frame of mind, things that relieve stress, and make you feel good about yourself and life in general. Sitting that butt in the chair is far more worthwhile when you have the creavity and fram of mind to do it well.


13 responses to “Some Blasphemous Words

  1. Pingback: Creativity is not a bottomless well « E.M. Bowman

  2. I totally agree. I’ve done this in the past, many times, and it always makes me more enthusiastic and ready to get back to my story. Sometimes you just need a moment or two to breathe. Great advice.

  3. Thank you so much for this post! I have arrived at the same conclusion as you, after much trial and error, worry and guilt. A few months ago, I just couldn’t write productively anymore. It started to worry me. For years, I’d been writing productively, getting published by indie press, winning awards. Then, suddenly…Nothing…I had nothing but me and the blank page, staring at each other, seeing who would blink first. I’m in the middle of rewriting a science fiction novel for the third time, under the guidance of Editor Alan Rinzler. Words stopped flowing for me, the novel went stale, the well ran dry, and that fire in the belly I had known for years had dwindled to a burning ember. I wondered if too much butt-in-chair had finally started to take a toll on my health and energy. I felt I needed to get away from the writing, return to walking and exercising, watch TV and movies, read. So I did that a bit, on and off. I didn’t do it full-time because I still felt driven to tinker with my novel-in-progress, but I didn’t write steadily and many writing sessions were unproductive, and I stopped chatting almost entirely in writers’ groups, although I missed them immensely. Then, all of a sudden, this past week, the writing started flowing, and I wrote pages with that fire in the belly that I love so much, and a whole new plot for my science fiction novel opened up in my head, and I feel very happy about that. And I found myself wandering back into writers’ groups, chatting again. I’ve come to the conclusion that daily butt-in-chair is great for developing and expanding writing skills, but that won’t work when you’re burned out. Writers need to replenish themselves.

  4. Comment from me just posted on Nathan’s blog: Nathan, thanks for putting up the link to the anti-butt-in-chair piece. Hooray!

  5. Thank you for writing this post – it has come at the perfect time!!

    With my first novel making the query rounds, all the advice has been to get my butt back in the chair and work on book number two. But it’s not there! I’ve exhausted myself researching agents and submitting queries to their exact preferences, and with other deadlines looming (writing and not), I’ve no energy to fling myself into another novel…yet.

    It’ll come, but I really do believe a break can be a great thing.

    PS – I found you through Nathan Bransford’s blog – great shout out!

  6. I decided to plow through my plot issues with my last WIP and ended up deleting over 5,000 words and a character – which then created more plot holes. Plus I lost several hours that I could have spent with my kids, etc. Sometimes taking a break and analyzing is the perfect solution. Thanks for the (inadvertent) support!

  7. This rings true with me today. No manner of sitting and staring at my manuscript is going to produce words today. Any words that I do produce are pointless. This digs deeper than just today’s writing. I have to go back and examine the plot to figure out how to fill this gap between point A and point B.

  8. One of my writing teachers talked about filling the creative well, in the context of getting out and doing things to make your writing more interesting. It makes sense to me. Sometimes you have to push through the resistance, and sometimes you need to get away from the writing for a bit. The trick is to know the difference.

    • Oh, I totally agree. Lots of things keep writers from writing, many of which are our own procrastinations, neuroses, and fears. You have to be able to deal with those and kick yourself in your own butt sometimes. But I’m talking more about the things that sap you and drain the energy way or keep it from building back up. Because creativity does not have a bottomless source of energy. It can be as draining as any other intense emotion.

      • Absolutely. Creativity can be incredibly draining! There’s a nice myth that creativity feeds itself, but that’s not always true.

        My biggest block right now is fear, which is better dealt with by the Butt In Chair method. But part of it is also that I sit at my desk all day and don’t get out and do things so I’m finding it hard to have anything to say.

  9. I think a lot of writers start feeling guilty if they step away from the page. There’s a lot of pressure out there to “write, write, write” and sometimes it’s just not there, for a variety of reasons. You have to keep your emotional health in top shape as much as the physical, both of which can have a big impact on the ability to be creative.

  10. I’ve been having this very issue. It’s not really writer’s block- I’ve just been having this issue with chapter 5 of my own novel and can’t figure out what happens next. A few things in preceding chapters changed a plot line or two and now I have to change a lot. I’m thinking that taking a step back to re-evaluate is going to be key here. It’s frustrating though.