The secret to good writing is, as Dr. Howard Stein repeatedly told his graduate students at Yale University, the University of Texas-Austin, The University of Iowa, SUNY-Purchase and Columbia University over the course of a continued 60 year teaching career, is simply: “Ass on Chair.”

That means, as Dr. Stein would often yell at us, you sit there in front of a typewriter or pen and pencil or a computer until you make some kind of positive progress that wasn’t there before you sat down.

Some of Dr. Stein’s star Playwrights at Yale included Christopher Durang (A History of the American Film, Beyond Therapy, Sex and Longing), Wendy Wasserstein (Uncommon Women and Others, The Heidi Chronicles, The Sisters Rosensweig), Albert Innaurato (Gemini), Michael Weller (Moonchildren, Loose Ends, Spoils of War), Glenn Young (founder of Applause Books)…

The “Ass on Chair” philosophy of good writing has served me well.

“Ass on Chair” does not forgive “Writer’s Block” or support “I don’t feel like writing today.” If you want to write for a living there will be down days but instead of doing something else, you put “Ass on Chair” and come up with something anyway.

If you use “Ass on Chair” to write a single page a day, at the end of the year you will have 365 pages finished. 365 pages is a book in any publisher’s book. Blogging is an excellent way to make “Ass on Chair” work for you every day.

Sit down every single day and post something original in your blog and writing will become an important and expected part of your daily routine. “Writer’s Block” is a synonym for laziness. There is no such thing. You either want to write or you don’t want to write. Nothing and no one is blocking you from writing and to believe otherwise is to support the idea that writing is special or mystical or that it deserves inspiration and intervention of the divine to happen. That is wrong.

Writing is a job and it is dirty, hard, work and you do it even when you don’t want to do it: If you are seeking romance in writing, don’t write a book, read one instead. Now some days I just sit there with “Ass on Chair” and I think and plan and plot and that, in my ongoing process of creation, is active writing even though I may only finally leave my chair with a few positive points of external movement; but the internal advancement on those “thinking days” can be staggeringly good and I have learned to value them as a part of my own “Ass on Chair” doctrine of good writing.

While I get a lot out of plotting and planning days as part of my “Ass on Chair” routine, if you’re just starting out or trying to find a writing groove, give yourself words to count at the end of the day as proof of your success.

I find around 333 words fit on one Word document page so if you work every day to make 333 words visible, you will feel great accomplishment in your life as a writer and at the end of a year you will have 121,545 words and that, again, is a book in any publisher’s book.

If you have a writing philosophy that works for you please share it here so we can learn from your successes.

34 Comments

  1. I’m quickly finding that regular writing practice is definitely improving my writing. After just a couple of weeks of “coming to the paper” as Judy Reeves puts in A Writer’s Book of Days, thoughts become words much easier.
    I also find myself looking forward to that time every day and making mental notes during the day about what I want to write about.
    No matter how experienced a writer is, I believe that regular writing session is essential.

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  2. Hi Carla!
    Yeah!
    You share excellent thoughts on how to get it done. Discipline can be tough to force because there are always other things to do than write… like surf the web, watch TV, play around, go for a walk… 🙂
    Coming up with a structured plan for production as you suggest will set you on the hardy path to success.

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  3. The secret to good writing is yourself.
    How?
    Look at your life and see all the most interesting things in your life and start by telling your own story.
    The Holy Bible IS THE BEST MODEL for learning good story telling.
    The simplier the grammar, the better.
    The more complex the plot the better.
    Look at the awesome plots in the Holy Bible.
    Imagine how Jesus Christ came from the seed of Abraham to Rahab an harlot down to be born of a virgin Mary.
    Look at how the dreams of Joseph led him into slavery and prison and to the palace and finally led to the migration of the family to Egypt and 400 years of slavery in Egypt.
    For lessons in plots, read about RUTH and DAVID.

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  4. Thank you for the suggestion, Osinachi. 🙂 The Bible as a resource never occurred to me, even though I’ve read several novels based on stories in there.
    David, I’m hearing you. I stick my ass in that chair every day. Most of the time, I’ll get at least one page written, while other days I can’t seem to get one word. I’ve learned over the years that when I have those kinds of days, it’s better to get up and go for that walk or watch TV with my family. Afterwards, my mind is refreshed and not so full of clutter.

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  5. I’m with you Deborah!
    I sit here all day every day switching between open Word documents and juggling several projects. This blog is my mental salvation. 🙂
    I agree with you on walking as a release and I walk every day just for the health of it. That is my down time, too, and it gives me great joy to get out on my own power for awhile.

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  6. “Ass on chair” simple but very useful. I can’t even imagine making a living out of writing. I do remember I think my Aunt once said to me as a writer that I should write something everyday and for that I greatly thank blogging because I have blogged almost every single day since I started. Even on vacation I bring a notebook to write ideas of what to blog about.
    I wish while my grandfather were still alive I would have asked him for more advice on writing. He was a writer (even wrote a play) and was my inspiration.

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  7. Right, Robin! Blogging is a great way to discipline your writing. I make a commitment to myself to write every day no matter what and this blog is the avenue I use for that purpose. Even when I’m writing a book or an article or doing research I still post something here every day to force myself to produce something unique and completely of my mind. Writing a play is great to do as well and I hope you write one someday!

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  8. David–
    I love it! But it’s true. You have to sit on that chair and set aside time every day.
    But don’t let the ass on chair get too big! You have to balance that out with venturing out and experiencing the world, so you have something to write about. Take note of the signs that are all around you . . . I know you’ve said that before in a different way somewhere on this blog.
    If you don’t have a blog, join a messageboard or a forum like this one. It’s a great way to write when you don’t have a whole lot of time! What I like about these forums is that it forces you to come up with thoughts quickly and write them out. It’s a great exercise when you think about it. But certainly not the reason I’m here! Just a bonus.

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  9. You’re right, Donna, “Ass on Chair” is the secret to good writing, but that means you need to be productive once you sit.
    Writing a blog forces you to think and write quickly and I find that helps me a lot in my other lives as a book author, presenter and teacher.
    There are days when you don’t feel like typing a word, but you just have to sit down and bang it out and make sure it’s just as good as your good days.

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