B.I.C. (Bum in Chair)

It is a cool, slightly overcast morning.  I’d like to be in my garden, planting more of the bedding plants I have waiting, puttering, pruning and plucking weeds.  It has beenhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/courosa/7532999776/sizes/z/in/photostream/ a very long wait for spring this year, and every fiber of my being is screaming to get outside, play in the dirt, create this year’s painting from the canvas of bare earth waiting for me.

But I have to work.

I could make the case that days like this one are rare this time of year, when the sun starts to blaze here at 7200 feet.  It’s cool enough I could be out there all day.  I’d get so much done.

But I have to work.

I have to work. The way I do that is by taking myself up to my office, turning off the Internet, and opening the WIP.  Then I begin to put words on the page.

Last month, I talked about the need to fill the well, but this is the flip side of that. To write for a living, or write in any meaningful way, you have to put in the time.  You have to do it when you don’t feel like it, when the garden is sprawling like a naked siren across the yard, when you haven’t had time enough to exercise and really ought to get to the gym in the off-hours before the place is packed. Not all the time, but during those times you say you will work, you do so.

Every successful writer creates rules about time and is very disciplined about those rules.  Mine are simple: Monday through Friday, I write in the mornings, usually starting after breakfast and going through until about noon or a little later.  Sometimes, if I’m racing a deadline, I’ll go back into my office after lunch and a little nap and write for another hour or so.   When I’m being very disciplined and productive, I get up at 4:30, as I’ve discussed before.

That means nothing happens in the morning, five days a week.  I don’t make appointments for that time, I don’t go to the gym, or meet friends for coffee.  I allow myself ten minutes to wander around the garden with my second cup of coffee. I admire a new sprout and pluck a couple of weeds, then I take myself upstairs and start working.  If I get behind, the rule is that I have to make it up on Saturday, which I resent very much because that’s the day I go into the garden or hike with friends or putter around the house doing pleasant little chores.  I never work Sundays unless things are dire; that’s the bargain I’ve made with the Girls in the Basement.

My rules might look nothing like your rules. I know a lot of writers who don’t start working until everyone in the house has gone to sleep.  That’s fine.  It doesn’t matter what your rules are, just so long as you make them and follow them.  When are you going to put your bum in the chair and do your work?

What gets in your way ? Where does your discipline falter? What are your best writing times? 


About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.


  1. says

    I have a full time job I have to work around, and, at the moment, an online college course. So I grab pockets of time to write. I bring a netbook with me and write during lunch — I’m amazed how much I can done in that time. That particular time I use to complete a short story a week, with the goal of 10 short stories in 10 weeks (written, edited, proofread, and submitted). I’ll also use chunks of time like waiting at a doctor’s office or a mechanic.

    In the evening, I’ll do writing in 15 minute chunks, set to a timer. For some reason, I can write a lot more when I do this. That’s been for my novel. Occasionally I’ll write early in the morning, but I generally can’t get my creativity going that early. I used to be in the army, and I was a zombie all those that early morning training!

    I think the biggest thing though is making writing a high priority. It’s really easy to find other things to do that seem more important, so you have to decide what you want.

  2. says

    I too have a full time job outside of writing, but it’s very flexible and I’ve found that the hours between noon and two tend to be downtime at work. That’s when I schedule a good solid 2 hour block of writing.

    I also sneak in some in the evenings, especially after the kids go to bed since I really don’t watch any TV. Either way, I try to get in the two hours of day for writing, editing, outlining, etc.

  3. says

    My first rule about BIC is that when there’s a post by one of my favorite WU contributors–particularly one by Barbara O’Neil–I start off my bun-planted session with my eyes planted on WU. It’s a great way start, and leads me into that wonderful state–that mixture of hypnotism and excitement for words on the page.

    Thanks to you and the Girls in the Basement for the years of feeding your lovely and motivational words to my muse, Barbara!

  4. Mari Passananti says

    Brava! This bears repeating often. I’m stunned by how many people get offended that I will not schedule lunches or other social engagements during my writing time. I only have about sixteen hours a week, based on preschool schedule. If I chipped away at that sacrosanct time, I would never get anything done.

    • says

      I run into that, too, and in fact, it’s the hardest thing for me to set boundaries over—no, I can’t get out for lunch, even though I love you. I’m working.

      The expectation is that you set those hours, so you can set different ones, right?

  5. Carmel says

    6am is as early as I can get started, but start I must because the early morning hours are the only ones during which my writing brain cooperates. Especially if I’m imagining a new scene, working out the rhythm of a sentence, or re-ordering a paragraph. Later in the day I can get things done like research and designing/adding content to my website, which I am having so much fun doing at the moment.

  6. says

    Between working on my fiction blog and all the social media that goes with promoting my novels and short stories, I tend to have distractions that block my writing. For weeks, I’ve been saying that I will sit down and work on my new short story but it hasn’t happened. Also, the creative spirit gets zapped with normal life. Your post inspires me to “fix” a time to write. Thanks!

    • says

      It does get overwhelming, all the other stuff that goes along with writing. Do set that time for writing and let the other stuff happen as it will.

    • says

      Paula, I’m right there with you. I spend soooooo much time making new connections, etc. to promote/market my book that I haven’t worked on book 2 in ages. I’ve given family and friends warning – after 06/01/13 I’ll be writing and unavailable.

      Of course, like Barbara says, they think my schedule is up for grabs. Oh, and I have a very real very full time job, too!

  7. says

    Another great post, Barbara. Thank you!

    I’m learning that I need flexibility within my rules, depending on what I’m working on and where I am in the process. I used to be so strict with myself that if I gave myself the smallest break, I got all tied up in guilt-knots and couldn’t create! So, now I give myself permission to play within the boundaries, within the rules – mornings and evenings tend to be my most creative times so one day I’ll work on the novel in those hours, the next day maybe a story, the day after that maybe both.

    I like how you say everyone’s rules are different and none look alike. This system works for me, for now, at this stage of my writing career. :)

  8. says


    There is always time to write. I like what Linda said above about “pockets of time”. I love those. Waiting at airports and hours in the sky are creative gifts.

    Working around family and the office are challenges, to be sure, but I can get as much writing done after bedtime as I can on one of those precious days all to myself.

    For me writing is the opposite of pressure: it’s pleasure. I’d rather write than do almost anything. Well, breathing is high up on my list but you know what I mean.

    Give me a laptop and an hour in a coffee bar. I’m a happy man. It’s a rare day without an hour to steal. Luckily I live in a coffee bar metropolis almost as dense as Seattle, too. Life is good.

    • says

      You do have a pretty great smorgasbord of coffee houses to choose from–a person can be very inspired in such spots.

      I keep meaning to give myself that gift–writing elsewhere. A change is as good as a rest, so they say. It would probably add variety to my writing day…and maybe even the writing.

  9. says

    My schedule is just about perfect but I always wish for just one more hour. I’m most creative and alert first thing in the morning where I get a good hour and a half before I go to a part-time job. After I pick my kids up from school and head home, I have another two hours but by then I’m usually so burnt out that I handle “busy” tasks that don’t take too much brain power–answer e-mails, dig up research, etc.

  10. Terry White says

    I have severe tunnel vision, with no grasp at all in the concept of multi-tasking, and my writing tends to come in long screw-the-rest-of-the-world-and-everything-else-I-have-to-do periods of hours on end.

    I shift focus with the efficiency of a Model A, yet words and thoughts and images race through my mind as if strapped to the hood of a Lamborghini. So once I’m in gear, I must stay the course.

    If only I could write it down as fast as I can think it up.

    I am project oriented—it matters little what that project be—and I must complete every responsibility or task, no matter how mundane, before I can start work on another. Once I’m writing, I’m writing until I get down the words that free that thought or image that nags my mind and makes me crazy and keeps me from taking care of all things big or small that I must do.

    It’s neither ideal or efficient, I know; but it could be worse. What if that Lamborghini were a mule……

  11. says

    Nothing beats BIC. However, I’ve found a way to fuel my love of the outdoors, cram in a little exercise, and work on my latest piece. As I jog through the woods, or pull weeds in the vegetable patch, I hash out my latest plot twist, rethink a character’s story arc, or tease out the structure of an essay. The only difficult thing I have to do is retain the info in my head long enough to get above mention bum in chair to jot down notes.

  12. Lisa Threadgill says

    I write Monday through Friday from 5:30am to 7am. in addition, I write on either Saturday or Sunday, but not both. Even the Muse turns into the Mayor of Crabbyville if I try to work all seven days.

    I had to laugh at the timeliness of the post. A few days ago I read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Saw myself on several pages. BIC is a battle I wage all the time. I’m pleased to say that most days I win. On the days when I falter, I’ll remember Barbara O’Neal giving up time in the garden to sow and harvest art instead. That should give me the extra push I need.

  13. says

    I write when I get up. I love the fact that you stated the “nothing” word and the “basement” writing, a la Roger Rosenblatt.(http://www.amazon.com/Making-Toast-A-Family-Story/dp/0061825956/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1369235458&sr=8-4&keywords=roger+rosenblatt)

    I look like I’m doing nothing -always. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing something. My husband calls me “the magician.” That fits. Wait a minute while I wave my wand and…okay, only words appear. What a let down, huh?

    My WIP gets VERY boring in the editing stages and to combat the impending doom that encircles my desk, I write poetry first. I read someone I like when I’m uninspired, which is most of the time. I drink coffee because it’s probably one the best passions I have…that lead to writing.

  14. says

    Great post! Discipline is freedom (Garth Fagan coined that) and I try to remember it always. My best writing happens in the afternoon after an early lunch, and stolen pockets of time …

  15. says

    Butt in chair for typing, buns in recliner for longhand writing works for me.
    The biggest distractions are those I do have control over: FB and other SM. So I make myself write M-Fri for 2 hours in the morning before I allow myself 15 min. to look at FB.
    Works most of the time.
    I’ve tried stealing pockets of time, but I’m a lousy thief.

  16. says

    Good post! Finding the time that works for you is key. I’m not a morning person, so your schedule wouldn’t work. But I can work well right after lunch and for the next few hours. Making myself do it is key. Thanks for the reminder. ; )

  17. says

    Great Article. I’m in the home buying business but writing has always been a passion of mine, i’m not very good at it, but i still enjoy doing it. After reading this, I decided to go to my home office and just every day for a quick 30 minutes write, and see if I improve at all. Hopefully i will:p

  18. says

    My best time is early morning and late afternoon when the house is very quiet. I’m retired so I can put two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. After my first book was published, I spent so much time promoting and marketing my book. I’m just beginning to start writing again.

    Rosalinda Morgan
    Author of Bahala Na (Come What May)

    • says

      Rosalinda, I’m glad to see someone posted about taking time between books for marketing and promoting. Same here. I spend my time now marketing my first book – I had no idea how time consuming it would be!

  19. says

    For years, I woke at 5:00 am and wrote for two hours, then edited after work, often oblivious and stunned (good & bad) at what I had wrote. I’d joke that my language and word choice was clear and concise, when in reality it was simply I could not comprehend a long word at that hour. Then, I ditched the day job and worked from home and suddenly, wearing all the hats: designer, sales, client manager and janitor obliterated the ability to wake so early. I’d forget were my latest WIP files were stored and other stupid mistakes. Then nirvana, partner was offered a well-paying job, with benefits and I was able to dissolve the business we started. Well, you would have thought my writing would have taken off! Nope, took me several years to realize this is a new job. I had to resurrect a previous me who had been a bitchy lab manager. Now she is my bitchy boss: My hours are 9-6 and I better have a doctor’s note to get a day off! Although, I stubbornly take Veteran’s And Memorial Day off. It’s been great! I love telling the vet that I need a Saturday appt since my boss won’t give me time off -the bitch! Suddenly, my daily goals at 3-4 thousand words a day or 2-3 chapters of edits or completely researching the facts. I’ve got to say it did take a few NaNoWriMo efforts to teach myself my pacing. All’s well that ends well!

  20. says

    My best writing times are in the morning when the house is still, the children in school, hubby striding around his classroom teaching theorams. But as a beginner I’m really only beginning to feel my way into the world of disciplined writing, partly because I am only beginning to create a ‘system’ for myself. It seems to take quite a while to get to the stage where one ‘knows’ what one needs to do, even what one might conceivably plan to do. Being a beginner is not a bad place to occupy, albeit frustrating insofar as sometimes I wish my habits were settled. Then I could stop faffing and get down to the writing that needs to be done instead of been always so distractable! [Love your idea of turning off the internet.]I know that eventually I shall be just like you Barbara, and already am moving towards a routine. Before I write I need to know what project I am planning to work on, or what chapter, scene, etc. I’m really hoping my newly discovered acquaintance with Scrivener is going to help me here!