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Transcript for Episode 1.16

Writing Excuses 16: BIC HOK

High points:

BIC HOK means put your Butt In the Chair and keep your Hands On the Keyboard.
Figure out what is blocking you — writers block comes in different flavors.
Figure out what motivates you. Schedule pressure, writing the ending first, whatever it is, use it.


This episode actually started a bit differently, as Writing Excuses Episode 16, 15 minutes long because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart. Then Brandon explained that that he had not told us the name of the episode because he wanted to let Howard do it. And Howard explained that the episode is entitled BIC HOK — butt in chair, hands on keyboard. This is his surefire cure for writers block. You can’t write anything unless your butt is in the chair and your hands are on the keyboard.

So today’s episode is really about overcoming writer’s block. And the first question is . . .

Have you experienced writers block? What times, and how did you overcome it?

  • there are two kinds, I don’t want to write right now or I can’t figure out how to write what I think comes next. And the first step for me is to sit down — BIC HOK — and think to myself what’s wrong. If I just don’t want to write, I probably should stop and go solve whatever is in the way. If I’m not sure what to write next, if I don’t know what comes next, I should probably go ahead and write something else.
  • that is certainly one kind, where you sit there and look at the blank page. But I also have faced the problem of writing and knowing that this is crap. It’s not that I’m not writing, but I know it’s junk. Let’s go ahead and talk about the first kind.

What do you do when you sit there and look at the blank page?

  • I think the core problem, at least for me, is that we expect writing to be easy and it isn’t.
  • that’s the Bird by Bird philosophy. There’s a book that talks about writing as an organic expression. A professional has to produce. (
  • I think one of the things to do to overcome this is to freewrite. Think with your fingers.
  • go back and read or edit something from yesterday. Then when you’re ready go on and keep going
  • I want to add some don’ts here. Don’t open your web browser, don’t start your e-mail, don’t start the solitaire game. Part of my ritual is to close each of these applications and acknowledge that I’m working.
  • for me, the first hour is least productive, the second hour more, and by the third or fourth I’m really churning out stuff. So at the start it’s easy to get distracted, and sometimes I let myself goof off.

How do you mix full-time work and writing in the edges?

  • my case may be a little different, I’m a writer at work. So I write all day at work, come home and have dinner and say goodnight to the kids, and then I write all night.
  • part of this is realizing that what I do at work is for others, all what I do at home is for me.
  • a key part is motivations — making yourself do it.
  • Howard told a story about working on his scripts, and they hadn’t yet arrived at the space station, and he could tell it wasn’t really going well. When he thought about it, he realized that he was hung up because he didn’t know the mathematics to figure out how fast the station was spinning. So he started his web browser and dug out the mathematics, and then the script started going well.
  • so identify what’s blocking you.

When I was working as a desk clerk, or this last week when I had to grade some tests and didn’t really have much time for writing, somehow when the writing time is more precious, I seem to be more productive. I think this is psychosomatic.

  • sometimes you need schedule pressure
  • this is the point behind nanowrimo, the national novel writing month in November.
  • some people take writing classes.
  • but there has to be a better way? How do you force yourself
  • how do you make yourself exercise? Or diet or spend quality time with your family?
  • you can be a goal driven or have external pressures
  • make sure you have a good motivation. If you ask yourself why am I writing this, and the only answer is to finish, that’s not good enough. You need another answer beyond that. This story should be exciting, these characters have to meet
  • This Story Must Be Told!
  • (Brandon talks about writing 11 epic fantasies over eight years, at about a thousand pages each, before being published. Dan makes uhuh noises, I think.)
  • I often write the endings first, and then I’m really motivated to get to that ending.
  • nothing is as cool as holding that book in your hand … and being able to say, “I did this.”

Final words? No? Then let’s do a writing prompt.

Writing Prompt

Write a story about something unusual stopping a novelist from finishing his or her book.

Back next week.

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