Writers have a saying: “Ass in seat, hands on keyboard.”
It means that even if you don’t feel like writing, even if you don’t have an idea of what to write, even if you have no current assignment, you should sit down every day and write something, anything.
I have my own similar saying: “Sometimes, if the muse doesn’t come to you, you have to hunt it down and beat it into submission.”
The idea is that even if you are not feeling very inspired, by getting into the habit of writing every day, your body and mind will begin to automatically react as soon as you sit down in your writing space.
Both sayings are funny and, at least for me, both sayings are wrong.
Earlier this year, when I was struggling to write anything meaningful or interesting, I put my ass in the seat. And I sat. And sat some more. No words poured out but a LOT of frustration festered.
Instead of writing until something useful popped into my head, I was most definitely not writing and staying very focused on that fact.
So when I wasn’t working my full-time job, I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for not writing; I kept telling myself I had obviously “lost it” and that I’d missed the opportunity to do anything serious with my writing. My “ass in chair” sessions turned into very effective brainwashing sessions where I thoroughly talked myself out of any productive writing. And under the guise of “beating the muse into submission,” I was wasting a lot of time that could have been used on other healthy, helpful pursuits—working out, hanging out with friends, cleaning the house, taking up a new hobby, or learning to draw.
And I don’t think it just applies to writing. I think it’s the same for any task at hand.
Sometimes you need to push through and get something done, but other times you just need to know when to walk away.
And I’m certainly not suggesting that if you really want to write you should just run around aimlessly doing nothing until the Great American Novel is delivered into your mind fully formed, because that sure isn’t gonna happen.
But I walked away for awhile: didn’t send out a query letter; stopped reading Writer’s Digest; put the printd pages of last year’s NaNo novel on the top shelf of a closet.
And then I turned to other enjoyable ways to spend my time. I tried and learned a bunch of new things (which I will blog about eventually) that made me happy, made me laugh and taught me how to create away from my laptop. I no longer felt like time was being wasted, that I had lost my inspiration, or that I was doing nothing with my interests and abilities. I found a new way to think and execute, and when I did, well, that’s when it happened.
The muse came back. One day, when thinking in a most un-writerly way, I got the inspiration for this blog. And for a NaNo novel. And then for a second novel. I haven’t stopped writing since.
Walking away from writing instead of continuing to bang my head against the wall made all the difference. With some time to develop other interests, I acquired new ideas and inspirations that would eventually lead me back to the laptop, simply because I wanted to write about them.
And now? I know I need to keep my ass in the chair if I want to finish any of these projects that I’ve excitedly started. But I won’t hesitate to walk away again if the Muse feels she needs a break.