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.

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