August 20, 2012

writing practice: keep your bottom in the chair

Some of the best writing advice I have encountered over the years could never have been planned or sought out in a book or seminar. They were pinpoint wisdom, directly from the source to me, little miraculous gifts, obviously meant to be. These amazing gifts of wisdom stand out to me significantly as I repeat them back to myself in my own writing practice.

A couple of years ago, I had the chance to spend a little bit of time with news anchor and author Jim Lehrer at a book signing event where he was promoting his novel Super (2010). Our old television set was often tuned to PBS' MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour when I was growing up, and in person, Mr. Lehrer was even warmer, kinder, and more dignified. As I listened to him discuss the book and his career, I was struck by the intentionality of his life path. He described himself as having two careers, two halves of himself split right down the middle: Jim the news anchor, a job he loved, and Jim the writer, another job he loved. He could have easily accepted his success in his news career as "enough," but he chose instead to dedicated separate, protected energy in writing his novels and pursuing his creative ambitions in this way.
As I spoke with Mr. Lehrer, and he politely inquired about my own work, I mentioned that I was an aspiring writer. He was swift to offer his best writing advice, which he said he had recently shared with another young aspiring writer: "Keep your bottom in the chair." He said that nothing else matters, if you do not keep your bottom in that chair, and sit long enough to let the writing come. All the talk about writing in the world cannot achieve anything compared with time seated in the chair. Obviously, he is a man who knows what he is talking about. He writes because he loves to write, and he makes time for it even though he doesn't have to. It is his passion, but it is also his practice. As we parted ways, he pointed one strong finger right at me and reminded me one more time: "Keep your bottom in that chair." I promised I would.

This advice cuts right to the core of all of my resistance in my practice. I can talk endlessly about my writing obstacles and fears and blocks, and yet no matter how legitimate the obstacles might be, the choice is always up to me. Will I keep my bottom in the chair? Will I sit at my desk or at the coffee shop table and keep sitting until something comes? I am a professional procrastinator and easily distracted by my surroundings. I am often literally unseated by my fears of failure. There is a definite place for adventure, for exploration, for creative inspiration and variety in my writing practice. But at the heart of the matter remains the time in my chair. 

I hope Mr. Lehrer's words will stick with you, too, as you begin this new week of writing or other creative practice. For my own part, I am writing this simple message down and posting it in my writing space, to remind me this week to be more diligent in my practice. What does it mean to you to "Keep your bottom in the chair?"


  1. Cayt, I love your posts. Every time I stop by this blog I am amazed... we have a lot of similar ideas/issues/views, and it's fun to see such familiar thoughts presented with eloquence. It's as if you tapped into my mind and translated everything into poetry. Also... you have inspired me to visit the Wheaton French market and create my own artist dates. thank you :) I love it.
    ps. I met your husband at a show in Madison and he told me about your blog... major props to him for that promotion:) hah

  2. Lauren! Thank you SO much for reading!! :) Ryan will definitely get props for his promotional support, hehe, and I am so excited for you to pursue your own artist dates! I would love to hear some of your own artist-date ideas/inspiration, if you are ever open to sharing. (As much as they are intended as a solitary practice, it always cheers me to know that others are also stepping out into this adventure!) Your comment and feedback means so much, thank you for taking the time to share!
    :) xo