The BIC=WIP Formula

Nothing truer than this old saw: the moment I decide to devote myself to writing my fledgling novel full-time, my life explodes: a new house to arrange, an old one to sell, a new grandchild on the way, an additional fall class at the university, elderly relatives with serious illnesses. The weeks whirl by, and the time I expect to spend working on my stories becomes crowded with other responsibilities. Finally, for a day or two, the merry-go-round slows and I decide to implement a formula espoused by many writers: BIC.

What the devil, you ask, is BIC=WIP? Nothing more and nothing less than BUTT IN CHAIR equals WORK IN PROGRESS. The key ingredient of BIC is perseverance. You must sit down and you must stay down. This means no bending to the earnest entreaties of spouse and children to come be by them. NO caving in to the dreaded Are you done yet? question. No checking social media every ten minutes. And no playing Candy Crush. The imperative is so simple it appears to rival a zen revelation – a writer must write. Period.

The key product of all this butt-time is expansion. I say key because if you follow this system, your writing will expand, in quantity and in quality. Now, a corollary of all this sitting down time may be that your ass will expand. A small price to pay. Next time you attend a writers’ conference, do a discrete study of successful writer butts, then ask if they work out to reduce the drag on the posterior.

Time has always dominated the writerly discussion. Truth is there’s never enough, not for anyone, not if you’re serious about making the most of the hours you are given. And all the social networking demanded of writers threatens to overwhelm the writing itself. Our other roles in life clamor for their fair share of the clock. So every writer must master the art of sitting down and writing. Of course, I don’t claim to have the perfect way to do that. I’m a ponderer. Much of my pre-writing doesn’t take the form of journaling or warm-ups. I simply think the story, sometimes for months. I remember hearing that John Steinbeck, whose writing I envy, would compose in his head. When he wrote out his stories the old-fashioned way – longhand – they seldom needed more than a cursory edit. Geez! Yet in many ways, that’s what I do – write the stories in my head. Of course, this makes me  less of a conversationalist. In the middle of a car ride or over dinner, I’m apt to blurt out some strange what-if question. What if there were bats as tiny as moths? What if you could point a freeze gun at an irate customer and stop him/her in the moment? What if you bumped into a table and a part of you fell off?

By the time I put BIC in my padded desk chair, I have scenes mapped out, characters positioned within those scenes and the arc of the narrative drawn. That’s when things really begin to happen. Those pesky characters I’ve spent weeks developing take over. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I knew what was going to happen only to find out, from that BIC position, that something else was taking place entirely. I consider this one of the great gifts of the writing process, and I wonder why Steinbeck’s characters never did that to him. Well, maybe they did, and he just knew them so well, he could write the new storyline their way and move on.

What I’m saying doesn’t qualify as hard science. It’s not original, and it isn’t easy. But (pun intended,), the formula works. So, take the pledge with me. BIC. Maybe not every day, just as often as life will allow. No matter whether it’s two days a week or every day, once you plant yourself, I’m betting the story will grow. Ready, set, sit. Let’s see what happens.

And Now We Are Six…

Spent the past weekend visiting my mother in Sharon, PA. Descriptive words for the area include depressed, economically abandoned, sad. The flavor of old-world sensibilities persists…festivals featuring Polish sausage, Italian meatballs or Hungarian cabbage rolls. The flattening of vowels represents the immigrant parents and grandparents who shared the homes or watched the children or came together for family celebrations. Driving up State Street, I sense time and history withdrawing from the present, abandoning the town to its uncertain future.

I never lived in Sharon. By the time my parents moved there from Struthers, Ohio, I had married and moved out of their world. But my six younger siblings – four brothers, two sisters – remained in my parents’ home for several more years. They share a history I know only through their stories. Listening to them at our gatherings is like opening a present…Or a time capsule, one I didn’t help fill. I feel a void. What they experienced together I will never share. They have anecdotes and adventures, wild tales of escapades conducted without me. And they have secrets…every once in a while one escapes during conversation, reminding me of all I missed.

My sister Kathy, third in line, served as the bridge between me and the others. A typical middle child, she bore the brunt of their teasing and the weight of their trust. When we were little, I hated that she followed me everywhere, begging to be included in my life. Since her swift, unexpected death last fall, I have wished many times that I could have her back for one more conversation.

For many years we concluded each family gathering by toasting our good fortune – that we were all still together, that no matter how much we argued, at the end of the evening we were still brothers and sisters, still friends. That tight group of seven has been shattered. Getting back together means more now than it ever did, overshadowed by the knowledge that now we are six, that our moments tick away and only love survives, manifest in the hugs and laughter and love you’s we give as we depart.

I never lived in Sharon, but part of my heart resides there, still invested in my first family and the bond we will always share.

A Moving Experience

The first time my husband decided we need to move from the ‘big’ house to a smaller space, I cried. He had recently completed the transformation of a small bedroom into a marvelous library/study. All my books had a place to call home. When we bought the carriage home, all my babies lost their place in the world. Packed into boxes, they spent two months in storage before being exiled to the garage until their new shelves were completed and they could reclaim their proper station. Oh, the inhumanity…

Fast forward…six years later, we are once again on the move. Turns out a smaller space wasn’t ideal for a workshop and a library. Back into boxes they went – every last volume. I tried to console them with neat labels: section #1, A to Ba, section #3, M to N…a mini-dewey decimal hybrid so I could find them when they were needed. You won’t go to storage this time, I whispered. They didn’t whisper back.

We’re in the new house now, but the shelves that will become my new library are only pencil lines on a drawing board. In the loft that is my personal writing space, I’m immersed in the waters of literature. At first, I leave the books in their labeled containers. Easier to re-shelve when the time comes, I rationalize. But as the days pass, I have to liberate the captives. I’m not immune to the voice of Flaubert, to the poetry of Poe, to the measured essays of Montaigne calling out for rescue. Arthur C. Clarke demands attention. Jasper Fforde’s Tuesday Next pouts. The novels of J. K Rowling wave their magic wands at me.

Now, lifted out of the cardboard, my books swim at my feet, peek over the bannister, scale the filing cabinets. Playful or morose, mysterious or chatty, the volumes of my personal library accompany me on my daily writing arc. Sometimes I stop and peruse the titles. Sometimes I panic, wondering where I put my most recent Mike Mullen YA. When I locate the book, I relax, assured by its presence that, despite the long wait, ASHFALL and all my other lovely friends will soon be home again.