Break or Butt-in-Chair?

If there’s one rule writers hear more than any other, it’s “Keep Your Butt in the Chair!” The idea behind this well-worn phrase, of course, is that writing requires consistency and discipline. You can’t just wait for inspiration to strike, and you can’t make a habit of throwing in the towel after twenty minutes to respond to the call of dirty laundry or on-demand TV.

I’m all for discipline and productivity. In fact, most of the time, I’m the work-ethic queen. When I’m in the middle of a draft or revision, I work with laser-like focus, letting nothing get in my way until the job is complete. The problem I then bump up against is, what do I do when the work is done?

Take my current situation, for example. About a month ago, I completed three rigorous rewrites of my current novel and handed it in to my agent. The very day the manuscript went on submission, she asked me to write a pitch for my next book, which I did. I’ve revised the pitch three times, and am awaiting her feedback on my latest draft. There are many things I could do while I wait: write blog posts (well, yeah, I’m doing that), come up with ideas for future projects, do background research for possible new projects, etc., etc. In other words, in spite of not having a deadline-driven, concrete job to do, I could keep my butt in the chair.

But another path calls. When I’m eyeball-deep in a project, the rest of my life takes a back seat. I spend less time than I’d like with my family and friends, dust collects in the corners of my house, and the garden goes untended. The beauty of nature becomes something I see through the window – and most of the time I’m so glued to my computer screen that I don’t even see it.

So my dilemma is this: Do I stick to the rules and keep my writing time sacred and exclusively for writing? Or do I look at this break in the action as an opportunity to fill the well, so that when I do get back to work, it will be with a new perspective and a refreshed mind?

Helen Tree Dance

What do you do in-between projects? Do you maintain the practice of Butt in Chair, or do you give yourself a break?


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