Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Butt in Chair Theory: What Does It Mean to Writers?

I think women have a harder time finding time to write vs. men. Maybe I’m wrong, but from my viewpoint I don’t see it. I’m not knocking men and saying they have all the time in the world. I know that is not the case when it comes to their writing. Many male writers have full-time jobs or part-time jobs. So they have to juggle writing around family, work, and a social life. However, most female writers I know not only have jobs outside the home, but a full-time job in the home. So how are we as women supposed to get it all done I ask? There are many ideas out there. Some of which I have shared with you already. But there is one I have not. If you are a writer, chances are you have heard someone at a conference, in a critique group, or some writer get together say, “How I get my writing done is by following the ‘Butt in Chair Theory’. But what does the “But in Chair Theory” really mean. Or better yet, what does it mean to you? Here are what a few fellow women authors on writing boards with me had to say when I posted the question to them in our discussion form: Janet Ann Collins said, “Butt in Chair means we need to sit down and write instead of procrastinating.” Bio: Janet Ann Collins is the author of books for children and used to write feature articles for a newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area, she writes a nostalgia column for the Antique Auction Explorer, and her work has appeared in many other periodicals. She is a retired teacher who lives in the Sierra foothills of Northern California with her husband. www.janetanncollins.com “Applying the ‘Butt to Chair Theory’ is critical for a writer like me with three kids, one husband, a big dog, a very mean cat, a garden, and a full-time job (besides writing). There are many distractions from writing tasks, particularly ones that aren't a lot of fun (like editing). “I make myself sit down everyday and begin with the most urgent item on my to do list (usually an assignment or submission due). Walking around thinking about what to write is great if you have time to think things out, but applying ‘butt to chair’ is the only way to translate all that planning into action. No getting up to throw in a load of laundry, prune the roses, clean up the kitchen, or have a snack. No email, no social networking. “I commit to at least fifteen minutes on the task, which is often enough to get me into a groove and jump start my creative process. Usually, I will look up an hour or two later and be surprised at how much I got done. This approach works since I must split writing time up into several short sessions and can't afford distractions stealing any of those precious minutes,” said Carol Ann Moleti. Bio: Carole Ann Moleti lives in News York City. She writes both fiction and nonfiction with a focus on feminist and political issues, but her first love is science fiction and fantasy because walking through walls is a lot less painful than running into them. http://caroleannmoleti.com or http://caroleannmoleti.blogspot.com Janette Rallison had this to say. “Because it's so easy to fill up my day with the essentials of showering, cleaning, errands, cooking dinner, etc, I've developed a: write first, then do the other stuff attitude. Which is why so often you can find me in my pajamas at 2:00 in the afternoon. But on the bright side, I do have 16 published novels.” "Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List" IRA Young Adults' Choices List 2007 "It's a Mall World After All" IRA Young Adults' Choices List 2008 "How to Take the Ex out of Ex Boyfriend" IRA Young Adults' Choices List 2009 JanetteRallison.com or janette-rallison.blogspot.com “I published my first book when I was in fifth grade, my second book as a senior in high school, and completed my first novel while in college. Many people asked how I found time to write with such a busy schedule. My "Butt in Chair" theory: twenty minutes of writing every day. No matter how jam-packed my day was, I could always find twenty minutes to write -- whether it meant waking up earlier, going to bed later, or skipping my favorite TV show. And those twenty minutes a day really added up. Now that I've graduated college and am making a career as a full-time writer, my twenty minutes has expanded to two hours. But no matter the length of time, the motivation is the same: to be a writer, you must write. Even when you don't feel like writing. As Barbara Kingsolver said, ‘There is no perfect time to write. There's only now.’” Dallas Woodbum emailed me right after my post. Bio: Dallas Woodburn, 22, is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories, a forthcoming novel, and more than 80 articles in publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, and The Los Angeles Times. She is also the founder of "Write On! For Literacy," a nonprofit organization that encourages kids and teens to discover confidence, joy, self-expression and connection through reading and writing. Learn more at http://www.writeonbooks.org and http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com/ Elysabeth Eldering had this to share. “For me, it is more a mental thing - since I work at home and am on the computer all day listening to doctors, my theory is basically concentrating on getting my lines and clearing out my reserved jobs. Today I have 50 jobs sitting there, some are hand clinic jobs, which aren't too long, and others are my rheumatologist that I work on (in total I have three hand clinic doctors, two of them who have assistants who dictate and one rheumatologist that I am assigned to and some days it is so hard to sit here and work when I have a gazillion things on my mind - like promoting my books, working on my email campaign or upcoming events). So for me, even though physically all day long, my butt is in chair, it's mostly a mental thing - concentrating on the daily grind and putting my other stuff out of mind for more than a few minutes until my regular job is completed (lines met or jobs cleared out).” Bio: Elysabeth Eldering is a traveler from birth. She has traveled with her family due to her father being in the military. She has lived in several states and overseas during her childhood. Ms. Eldering calls South Carolina home these days, with a mindset of "Southern by choice, not by birth." She entered her first writing contest at the age of 41 and took second place for a children's mystery, Train of Clues, which inspired her to take that story and write a series for children with the premise being that each state would be the mystery. Her series has a Jeopardy! (R) like style to it but for guessing the state in the form of a question. Each book concentrates on one state and there are supplemental study guides available which take the series cross curriculum. http://jgdsseries.blogspot.com or http://junior-geography-detective-squad.weebly.com As you can see, they all have very different lives and backgrounds, but one thing they have in common is the love of writing and finding a way to do it. I am not going to tell you I’m a big “Butt in Chair” kinda gal. I tend to get my ideas when away from my writing desk. However, I do have to find the time to sit my butt down for a few minutes a couple times during the day to get my writing done or it would never see the light of day. I guess you could say this is my theory to the saying, “Butt in Chair” However, the person who really helps us writers get the understanding of the “Butt in Chair” theory down and why it is so important is Suzanne Lieurance. I emailed her on what this blog topic was going to be about and here is what she had to say: "Butt in Chair" Advice for Writers By: Suzanne Lieurance I think the "butt in chair" advice was coined by Jane Yolen. To me, she meant that the only way to get something written is to sit down (put your butt in a chair) and write it. You can't just talk about it; you can't keep "planning" to write something. You can't keep waiting for the day when your life is less hectic; the planets are in the proper alignment, or whatever "excuse" you're making for yourself so you don't start writing now. You just have to put your butt in a chair and start, then you have to stay there long enough to get a little writing done. Now...obviously, how do we do that? Well, I've written 22 published books, so over the years, I've learned a few things that work for me. Maybe they'll work for you, too. Tips to Get--and Keep--Your Butt in the Chair 1. The more you know about WHAT you want to write, the easier it will be to write it. At first, the time you spend with your butt in the chair, you should be doing the "prewriting" - the stuff that won't actually end up in your story or article, but its all stuff you need to know in order to write the stuff that WILL end up in your story or article. I find that if I try to start an actual article or story without all this "prewriting" I get stuck early on. Then, if I try to keep going I can't seem to get anywhere, and then procrastination sets in-- BIG TIME. If I do enough prewriting first, though, I don't get stuck (at least not as soon and not as often), so I'm able to keep my butt in the chair longer and I get the writing done. 2. Divide any writing project into smaller projects, so you don't get overwhelmed. Then, all you have to do is keep your butt in the chair for each small project. For example, if I'm working on a novel or a nonfiction book, it can be overwhelming to think of writing an entire book. But, if I set smaller goals for each part of this project, I only have to focus on one part at a time. Eventually, I get the whole book/project completed. The smaller parts of a book project might look like this: a. Interview characters for novel. b. Create an outline for nonfiction book or start creating a story arc for a novel. c. Write opening scene for the novel, or rough in one chapter for a nonfiction book. f. Write just one more scene for the novel or one more chapter of a nonfiction book. 3. Never end a writing day without knowing where to start the next day. If you're working on a novel, don't write everything you know so far and end your writing day there. Stop writing BEFORE you write the next scene that you already have outlined in your head. Save that scene for the next day. It will be much easier to put your butt in the chair the next day if you can sit down and immediately start writing because you already know what you want to write. Many people want to "have written" something. But published authors are the ones who follow the "butt in chair" advice and actually get something written. Good luck! Bio: Suzanne Lieurance is a children's author, freelance writer, and the Working Writer's Coach. Find out more about her Write More, Sell More, Make More Money Than EVER in 2010 Coaching Program and the Children's Writers' Coaching Club if you need additional help following the "butt in chair" advice to reach your publishing goals. Being a full-time mom isn’t easy. Okay, being a parent isn’t easy and trying to write in the middle of it all just adds to the craziness. But if you love to write, you will need to find your “Butt in Chair” theory and why it will work for you. Write it down and post it somewhere you’ll see it. You will be glad you did because you will find your butt in a chair writing what you have been talking and dreaming about writing before you know it.


  1. Very well said, Virginia! I am sorely lacking in the butt-in-chair department lately and need to get back on track. This was a great post to read this morning. Thanks for sharing!

    Karin Larson

  2. Hey Karin, so nice to have you stopping by. Well I hope you do get back into the swing of things because when I reopen the doors of Stories for Children Magazine I would greatly miss having you as a contributor. :)

  3. Great post and fun to see different perspectives on the BIC theory. I've been writing on my bed lately. Does that mean I write BOB? ;) I write in spurts though and it doesn't matter where I am when it hits me.

  4. Yes, it's all those little things that become a time-suck.
    Actually, I'm a "Get my butt OUT of my chair" person. In front of my computer, I tend to do stuff online. My to-do list stares at me. My phone might ring. I check my email often.
    So when I need to write, I get my butt out of that computer chair, take my notebook, (I hand-write everything first) and go sit on the couch or at the dinner table. No distractions!

  5. Awesome post, Virginia. I like Diane's idea too. I spend a lot of time at my PC, but it definitely helps not to have access to the Internet when I'm writing--which is why I write long hand most of the time.

    Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals and breaking them into smaller chunks, as you suggested, is a wonderful way to make progress and keep you motivated.

    I find the only times I procrastinate is when I've overcommitted myself and feel too overwhelmed to sit down and get things done.

    Keep up the great work.


  6. Great blog post Virginia! I enjoyed reading all the different perspectives of the "Butt in Chair" theory. Thanks for sharing.

  7. You must re-open at some point, Virginia. I miss SFC a lot and will definitely be back at it and submitting!

    Glad you are blogging and much congrats on the new little one.


  8. What great tips! I feel honored to have mine included! It is inspiring to realize that every writer has the "butt in chair" struggle. It's nice to know you're not alone! Thanks for this post, Virginia.

  9. This was a great idea for a post. I often wonder how I get anything accomplished. Now I see that I'm not alone.

  10. Great post, Virginia. I love Suzanne L's advice, #3, never to end the day without knowing what you need to do the next day, and where to start.

    While I don't create a weekly plan (I know I should), I do have a daily schedule book on my desk, and I list the tasks, writing, etc, that I need/should do the next day.

  11. Great post!

    In addressing the women vs men, I totally agree with this. I believe it has something to do with wiring. Of course the housework does have a lot to do with it. Men do what they want, Women do what needs to be done. So if we can just convince ourselves that the writing is more important than the laundry, we'd have it made, lol.

    I have such trouble getting my butt in the chair, but once I'm there and the words start everything is fine. It is also fulfilling to get those words out. I'm making progress getting my butt in the chair these days.

    I really enjoyed this article and everyone's take on the issue.