My on-line secret mentor, Jane Yolen, is often credited with, if not creating the expression butt-in-chair (which she abbreviates BIC), at least promoting it. I'm not a hundred percent sure what she meant by butt-in-chair, beyond the fact that writers have to sit down and do the work, just as anyone needs to do the work required in any field.
The expression butt-in-chair has come to mean, I think, a strategy that involves simply soldiering on. It's often seen as a method of working for those who are strong enough that they can just put their shoulder to the grindstone and push. When I see it used, it is often accompanied by a certain amount of judgement addressed toward those who don't have the natural discipline to simply plow through a project.
Author and teacher J. Robert Lennon wrote just this past April that what he termed "the ass-in-the-chair canard" "...is in fact an insult to almost everyone who has ever
struggled with the creative process, and as a teaching tool is liable to
do more harm than good. It embraces several dangerous lies: that
writer's block is the result, first and foremost, of laziness; that
writing (indeed, any creative pursuit) is like any other form of labor;
and that how hard you work on something is directly correlated with how
good it is." As he also says, being able to sit down and work relatively easily without struggle isn't a moral victory making one writer superior to another. It is simply a method of working.
There is that business of having to put in the time, though, and actually do the work.
This brings me to Butt-In-Chair: A No-excuses Writing Productivity Guide for Writers Who Struggle to Get Started by Jennifer Blanchard. I first heard of Blanchard through one of her blogs, Procrastinating Writers. What I found particularly interesting about her book, is that while early on it includes the kind of judgmental material I've come to expect when I hear "butt-in-chair" (too tired, too busy, too distracted, for example, are treated as excuses for not writing and not as problems that could be addressed), the book is otherwise filled with traditional anti-procrastination material and even time management techniques. Butt-in-Chair is addressed to "writers who struggle to get started," meaning, I assume, new writers, and there is a great deal of work management material in it for people at that stage.
While reading it, though, I kept thinking, how is this butt-in-chair? People who practice a butt-in-chair work strategy simply work. What do they need any of this for?
Then I wondered, But do they? Just work, I mean. Is it possible that butt-in-chairers follow some time management strategies they're not aware of? Do some of them, for example, take a break for coffee every hour or so, inadvertently breaking their time into units and thus tricking their minds into believing they're starting out fresh when they go back to their desks with their cups? Do they move between projects for the same reason? New project, new energy? Do they work early in the day as much as they can, when their self-discipline is at its highest? Do they break their calendar year into big units, with some time for specific writing projects, some for study, some for marketing?
In short, I am now wondering just what butt-in-chair means. Is it really a specific method of putting in writing time? Or are we simply talking here the acceptance that the writing time must be put in with no how specified?