500 Words: Butt-In-Chair

Butt-in-Chair MeansI got it.  The advice I’d been reading most of my life finally hit home.  Finally.  Sometimes I’m  really slow.

This is my work now.  Developing the discipline of meeting myself at the computer every day and creating.

If none of what I have been doing looking for a job has been working, and my heart longs to create, why not just spend my energy there?

I thought talent and creativity just came into being. Really.  My father was a musician with perfect pitch, yet I never saw him practice or sweat over a composition.  We only model what we see, and if creativity seems to come out of nowhere, how was I supposed to know it took practice?

I didn’t know it was a craft to be honed, and that the way to hone it was to create all the time. Instead of creating,  I would go back to not creating and worrying incessantly about how to pay the bills.  My dysthymia would become full-blown depression and I would lie in bed and cry.  (I still worry incessantly about bills.)

Then I read a book of essays by Anne Lamott about life.  I hit the part about “shitty first drafts.”  Seriously, that’s what this crazy writer up the freeway from me in Mill Valley called them, “shitty first drafts.”  Well, huh, I thought.

It began to sink in.  This advice I’d been reading most of my life began to hit home.  It was the very realization that I have to put my butt in the chair every day and do something.  Butt-in-chair does not mean  publishable every day, nor does it mean a strict word count or number of hours.  Why Anne Lamott was the one who got through is anyone’s guess.

What “shitty first draft” and butt-in-chair mean to me is, go to work.  Every day.  Go to work and create.  If it’s shitty, who cares?  I don’t even have to care.  The only care I should have is that my butt is in the chair and I am working.  Two hundred words a day, five hundred?  Doesn’t matter.  Hands on keyboard, butt in chair, go.

Thank you to all the mentors I’ve never met.  To Richard Kadrey who shared a picture of one of his outlines.  To Wil Wheaton who writes honestly about his own depression and anxiety, and who taught me the two best words to string together; “depression lies.”  To Anne Lamott who taught me about shitty first drafts and letting go.  To Annie Liebovitz who makes it look effortless but who said “I’m happy if I get one shot a year I really like,” while I was in the same room with her.  To Gordon Atkinson whose writing resonated with me while he was RLP and who was open about his own process.

It’s really called discipline, or work ethic, or something silly like that.  But to me, it’s shitty first drafts and butt-in-chair every day.  No lie, it’s that simple and that difficult.

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