There’s only one way to get your writing done

(psst…It involves a chair)

I have noticed that if I sit down to write, with the goal of writing and with a commitment to writing, I will write.

If I do not sit down, I will

  • do the laundry
  • try on old dresses
  • concoct a new green smoothie
  • pay the bills
  • wander up to the mailbox see if something amazing arrived
  • check to see if I’ve missed any news
  • check living social to see if there are any amazing deals on vacations to Fiji
  • check my Twitter notifications
  • put on sunscreen
  • look for hidden chocolate
  • read Q Magazine
  • clean out the closet
  • search ebay for vintage typewriters
  • search ebay for vintage typewriter ribbons
  • search for the cat
  • feed the cat

Which is to say, when I do not start the day with a plan to write (and many days, I don’t), I always do something else.

I am by no means suggesting that you do not feed the cat. Just don’t do it when you’re supposed to be writing.

Of course, it is not enough to sit down at the computer. You also have to close your Internet browser. This is imperative. If you think the app Freedom will save you, think again. You’ll probably just find your iPad or phone and continue your self-destructive streak on a smaller screen. I like to write in my bedroom, where the home’s wi-fi can’t reach. This self-imposed exile from connectivity helps me get back to what matters: the words.

If you want to write poorly, if you want your prose to sound meth-induced, then keep your email open in one window, facebook in another. Keep your phone and iPad at your side. If you want to write your novel, turn it all off. If it is physically impossible to do so, then go to a room where your gadgets aren’t and write on actual paper. It’s possible. For centuries, people did just that.

I did some of my best writing when my son was an infant. I would put him in his carseat, then drive up and down The Great Highway in San Francisco until he fell asleep. Then I would park at Ocean Beach and write in a hardback notebook. I wrote most of a novel this way. I used notebooks by Chronicle Books purchased at Green Apple in San Francisco. Unfortunately, Chronicle stopped making the notebooks, which put me at a disadvantage. Then I found Daiso, the Japanese dollar store. The aisles of Daiso are packed with slim, stylish notebooks for only a dollar each. Problem solved.

You don’t need a fancy pen, a great computer, or even a room of your own. A room of your own is great, but don’t wait until you have it to write. When I lived in Atlanta, sharing a basement room with a building contractor, I would escape to a patch of grass near a busy road to write. That’s all it took: a patch of grass. When you can’t be alone, find a way to be at ease in your mind. Create a bubble of mental space. If life is hectic (and it usually is), read two or three pages from a good book before you start to write. This can help get you in the right frame of mind.

“Butt in the chair,” as Stephen King says. Sit down. Put your fingers on the keyboard, or wrap your hand around a pen. Start writing.

Michelle Richmond is the author of four novels and two story collections. Despite many hours spent feeding the cat, she does sometimes manage to get her butt in the chair.

This piece is excerpted from The Paperclip Method: The No Outline Novel Workbook. Get the workbook.

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