You know how some brisk how-to-write books tell you that the most important rule in writing is the Butt-in-the-Chair, aka
Yesterday, I wrote a scene I’d been avoiding, and after I wrote it, I knew why I’d been ducking it. It sucked. It began as a conversation that went on and on and was pretty much infodump, and ended in action that I cut off because I really did not want to write the emotion it required which seemed banal. The entire time I was thinking, “This is going to kneecap my story,” which was not a help. The info is necessary to the plot of the book, but it’s not fun or interesting. So why did I write it?
Because of the butt-in-the-chair rule, of course. I’d been stalled on some parts of the book and decided to put my butt in the chair (which in this case was my bed, propped up by pillows) and Just Do It. The experience reminded me of why rules about butts and where to put them are worthless for me: I really need that stretch of time where I stare into space and imagine the scene, listen to the voices, find out what they’re saying. I need to fantasize it through before I make it concrete because if I don’t, if I just start out with an outline of what needs to be in the scene, I end up with concrete: flat, gray prose that has cracks in it.
What I’m after is more of a mosaic of voices and attitudes and relationships and action (I can already tell this concrete/mosaic metaphor is going to get away from me) that hopefully makes a pattern that’s colorful and interesting and moving and exciting and all that good non-concrete stuff. The key is that I can fix a mosaic but I can’t fix concrete, that stuff just has to be jackhammered out. But to get the mosaic, I have to get out of the chair, walk around, drive to the grocery, or my fave, go to bed with the covers over my head and make believe. Yes, I am a professional writer.
Of course, imagining it through means that the scene goes everywhere because those people in my head have no concept that they’re part of a well-organized book and they’ll talk about damn near anything if I let them go their own ways. Those are my options: concrete or a crazy mosaic of chat and angst. Of course, I’m going for the mosaic.
And people wonder why it takes me years to write a book.
All of that means that the conventional wisdom of the chair thing is extremely bad advice for me. I don’t have contrasting advice–“Crawl under a comforter, curl into the fetal position, fantasize” just doesn’t have the bracing, authoritative ring that “Put your butt in the chair” does–I just know that the briskness of the conventional wisdom was not made for such as I. If you’re about to argue that imagining your scene is part of the “butt in the chair” bit, I will counter with the argument that the implication is that after putting your butt in the chair, you will hit those keys. Or to put it another way, “Just write it, you dumbass.” No.
Conventional wisdom should get its hands off my butt, is what I’m saying.