JUST PUT YOUR BUTT ON THE CHAIR
Three times a week, when I was eleven and twelve, my mother picked me up from school and took me to the Greyhound Bus terminal where I boarded a bus for Boston. It was an hour and a half drive from Worcester where I lived and I made sure to stay awake so I wouldn’t miss my stop. I was headed to the Boston Ballet school where I was training to become a professional ballet dancer.
I wanted it more than anything and I was dedicated to the necessary practice to achieve my goal. But I can’t say that I was always enthusiastic. Quite the opposite. During those long bus drives, I usually felt dread about how much energy I would need to take two
classes in a row, but I never considered not going. And once I started, I put my focus on what I was doing and I was completely on board.
I don’t practice ballet any more but twice a week, I work out for an hour with an online trainer who puts me through my paces. Often, I feel dread when the time is approaching, I feel stagnant and I’d rather lie around. I can’t imagine the energy I’m about to expend,
but once again, I don’t cancel my sessions and when I get started, I really like doing it.
Similarly, I don’t always feel like writing. I get into that same kind of dread, but every day, I put my butt on the chair and I write. I’ve been doing it for such a long time, I wonder what on earth I have to say. I consider getting up and doing just about anything else, but I don’t. I sit there. I fiddle around with this topic and that. I try out a number of opening lines and then suddenly, I know what I want to write and my
muse takes over.
When you’re facing a writing session, it doesn’t matter if you feel like doing it or not. Inevitably, your inner critic will meet you at the door and you better believe that he (or she) has done their homework. He knows your weaknesses. He knows exactly what to say to convince you that writing is waste of time. You’re no good at it, he reminds
you, so why fill up the air waves with your useless prattle?
There is a way to get beyond this, but you have to put your butt on the chair and stay there. When my students ask me how to get started, I tell them to schedule a writing session like they
would a doctor’s appointment. If you don’t cancel with your doctor at least 24 hours before, you get charged. If you cancel a writing appointment, you feel guilty. So sit down, pick up your pen or place your hands on the keyboard and have at it.
Your words don’t need to make sense. If you’re doing it right and you’re allowing the ideas to flow out in a stream of consciousness, they’ll be all over the place at first, but they’ll straighten out eventually. Just keep in mind that if you want to write, you have to be able to live in chaos. You have to find a way to ignore your inner
critic and believe that you’re more powerful than he or she is. You have to commit to writing without filters and putting the truth on the page. You have to do your work without editing. That will come later. For now, just put your butt on the chair and write.
Over the years, I’ve learned that after you do it long enough, discipline, a hard and demanding concept, turns into consistency, a gentler version of the same thing. For me, after decades of writing, the debate about “should I or shouldn’t I” has disappeared. I don’t
make up excuses or disclaimers. I don’t coddle myself. It’s simply “what I do” and I would be lost without it.
One of the most commonly asked questions from my students is, “Who’s going to want to read this? Why would anyone care?”
My answer is always the same. “It doesn’t matter.” No one can predict what will go viral and what will fall flat. You have to write for yourself and no one else, because we don’t know what we’re about to write, where we are going or how long it’s going to take us to get there.
I like to compare this kind of work with what author Joseph Campbell calls “The Hero’s Journey.” In simple terms, this myth describes a hero who goes on an adventure. That’s what he calls “The
Departure.” He confronts powerful resistance and fear and wins a decisive victory. That’s what he calls “The Initiation.” When he gets back home, transformed with the power to help his fellow man, that’s what he calls “The Return.”
In keeping with that mythical story, when you write, you set out to say something that means a great deal to you. That’s “The Departure.” When you face your inner critic and get a case of
writer’s block, that’s “The Initiation.” When your muse arrives and you drop into a world of writing with no time or destination, that’s “The Return.”
Writing may not be as challenging as facing an illness, an enemy or a great loss, but the concept of confrontation and resistance are the same. When I feel resistance and I want to run away, I breathe and remind myself that I have no idea where my work is going
or where I’ll end up. But I know from experience that what I write can free me from my fears, uplift me and unburden my heart. That’s enough to inspire me to put my butt on the chair and go for it.