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.