I hear a lot of writing advice that goes something like this: “Put your butt in a chair and force yourself to keep writing.” In fact, BIC (butt in chair to those of us in the biz) is probably the most popular writing advice out there. I’ve even given it myself, and for those of you who haven’t started that novel you’ve been thinking of writing for the past ten years, it’s still my advice.
But for those of you who are already writers, who are dedicated and diligent, I have different advice. It comes from one of my all-time favorite songs, The Gambler by Kenny Rogers:
You got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run. You never count your money while you’re sitting at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.
The song doesn’t give specific instructions for holding or folding, but then again, life doesn’t come with a convenient instruction manual. Somewhere, deep inside yourself, when you’re being honest, you have to find your own answers.
There are times, when writing, that you need to white-knuckle it through something. Just get to the end and sort the rest out later. There are times when you know something’s wrong, and you need to take a step back to reevaluate. There are times when you have to walk away from a project, at least for a time, to regain a sense of perspective and come back at it with more knowledge or maturity. And there are even times when you need to recognize that what you’re working on is crap.
When are these times? I wish I could tell you. I sometimes recognize them when I see them, but like you, I also sometimes struggle to identify the right path. All I know is that BIC is too basic for us more serious writers. We carve out time to write every day, or at least every week, we’ve finished things in the past and know we can finish things in the future. The question then becomes: What do we spend our precious writing time on?