When to Ignore the World’s Best Advice


We’ve all heard it a million times:  BICHOK.  Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.  We’re never going to finish our novels without those two simple steps, repeated over and over and over again.

But sometimes, even the world’s best advice is meant to be ignored.

I recently finished the most disruptive, disruptED three months of my writing career.  In the course of promoting DARKBEAST, I completed more than thirty blog tour posts (along with maintaining my own social media).  I traveled to two major conventions.  I made another dozen appearances at bookstores and schools. I traveled to New York for a business meeting with my editor and the marketing department. 

(The three months of disruption weren’t all work-based.  I also traveled to celebrate landmark anniversaries with family, and I enjoyed my usual autumn re-awakening of the cultural season — plays, orchestral performances, lectures, etc.)

Every day that I was home during those three months, I vowed that I would start writing my new novel (THE SINGLE WITCH’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, a fourth volume in my Jane Madison series.)  I stared at my outline.  I cracked my fingers in elaborate gestures, like a concert pianist sitting down at the bench.  I tried my hardest to concentrate.

And then I would get pulled off in another direction, by some time-sensitive, must-be-done-NOW emergency.  (And yes, these were real emergencies — not the dilatory tactics that we all indulge in when we’re procrastinating.  These were career-shaping issues that had to be resolved immediately.)

SURVIVAL GUIDE wasn’t totally ignored.  I squeezed in writing time whenever I could — between career crises, between novel promotion, between family obligations, between household responsibilities.  I wrote the first 5000-word chapter over the course of almost three weeks.  I edited it over another week, then edited it again, then considered throwing the whole thing out because it was so choppy. 

I wrote the second chapter over another fortnight, then *did* throw it out because it was unbelievably awkward.  I re-wrote the second chapter over two *more* weeks, grumbling, and muttering, and swearing all the while. 

After all, writers write.  Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. 

But ultimately, I concluded that that wonderful writing advice was not absolute.  Sometimes, there are special circumstances.  Sometimes, it really *is* better not to write.

When I realized that truth, I decided to wrap up my Season of Distraction by doing various administrative tasks — things vital to my writing career, but things that could be handled effectively into half- or whole-day chunks.  I updated my websites.  I studied new templates for the Morgan Keyes site revision (coming to an Internet near you in 2013).  I updated my earnings spreadsheets (including the book-by-book breakdown, so that I can figure out where to next focus my creative energies).  I updated my tax spreadsheets — income and deductions.  I even completed my filing of an amendment on my 2011 taxes, correcting a mistake I’d known about for six months but had not handled.

Did I end up with a finished manuscript of SURVIVAL GUIDE by December 1, as I had originally planned?


But I used my time even more effectively. 

Of course, the only trick with ignoring the world’s best writing advice is that you have to go back to writing sometime.  (If you don’t, then you’re not being canny and shrewd.  You’re being a procrastinator.)

I’m ready now.  With my plate relatively clear for the rest of December and all of January, I’m ready to submerge myself in SURVIVAL GUIDE.  I’m ready to keep my butt in my chair.  I’m ready to keep my hands on the keyboard.

So?  What about you?  When have you bucked good, solid writing advice, with great results for your writing career?  Would you make those choices again?


9 comments to When to Ignore the World’s Best Advice

  • Well, not helping my writing career any, but I’m invariably forced to take a break from writing during this time of year with the gift making. By the time I put the tools down for the evening and make dinner, I’m physically and mentally exhausted. I’ve been getting in a little revision time off and on in the morning and when I woke at 3am yesterday, I couldn’t go back to sleep until I typed up a story beginning that demanded attention before it would let me sleep. I think it’s my first MG work. But from mid November to mid January I get very little writing done. Not writing, but it makes people happy, so I’ll take it.

  • I am SO in the same place, Mindy. I have been trying to start the first chapter of the new THIEFTAKER book for a week, and have slowly realized that it makes little sense to do that right now, since I’m about to be traveling for the holidays. But those iron-clad rules (Thou Shalt Write!!) are so hard to set aside, even though I know that I’ll do better work when I’m rested and not thinking about all the stuff I need to do before we leave. Anyway, best of luck with your work. Hope you and yours have a great holiday.

  • Daniel – I’m not sure what types of gifts you are making, but I sometimes find that when I’m knitting or quilting, my brain works out problems in the current WIP. I consider that to be a bonus to the hand-crafting!

    David – Sorry to hear that you’re suffering from the same distractability! I know that the time you spend with your family will be well worth the momentary lapse in following the writing rules!

  • Mindy! You are so freaking organized. I am simply AMAZED!

    And while I am not organized, I have been where you are. Sometimes life requires us to not write. It is a difficult situation to be in, no matter the cause, and my reasons were family illness and deaths. My brain simply did not work for anything creative for 4 months. Hence, I did not make my last deadline. My agent and I renegotiated the pub date because of that. And the new contract is for longer periods of time between books. I have limits. And I have come to accept that. I am also finding time to make jewelry again and I am feeling recharged — So much so that I am feeling creative again. I am (in about 10 minutes) going to send in the proposal for Jane Yellowrock book 7. And it is sooo much better than the last book, which I hate to admit, but it’s true. Time off is important.

    Now — BIC for me!

  • “Don’t work on more than one project at once.” I forget where I heard that, and it may just be my DH telling me to focus on one thing at a time, but here I am, working on final revisions before sending out partials to requesting agents, and also needing desperately to do fresh writing on a very different project. So I’m working on two things at once, and finding myself extra productive with both. I like it.

  • Ha, Faith! I’ve fooled you about my being organized 🙂 I wish I had some magical words to say about the illness and death in your family — alas, I can only empathize. And, of course, state my admiration for the professional manner in which you and your agent renegotiated and moved on. I’m typing with crossed fingers for Jane Yellowrock 7!

    Laura – I know a few authors who regularly juggle projects, harnessing the energy from one to feed others. My mind doesn’t work that way, but I’ve seen huge leaps in productivity for authors who can do it!

  • I chose to focus on finishing an academic article before the end of the semester rather than working on my new epic fantasy idea. That poor fantasy has been languishing all semester as I made major revisions to my urban fantasy so it could go out to more agents. I really wanted to write that epic. I still do. But I made myself finish the older stuff first. This turned out to be a really good move because it got stuff done and off my desk before the unexpected emergency hit. I just spent 10 days in the hospital when I should have been giving final exams, grading papers, and writing. Now I’m behind again, but not nearly so behind as I would have been if I hadn’t prioritized finishing older things over playing with the new shiny.

  • Circling back after far too long an absence – blame the holidays!

    Sarah – I’m glad to hear that you’re out of the hospital, and I hope that you’re very much on the mend. And yes, setting priorities (even when they don’t include our greatest want-to-dos) can save our bacon in challenging situations!