BICHOK: Draino for your Writing Clog

14 Mar

by Susan Dennard


Note: this post is (sort of) a continuation of If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It, and When the Glass Isn’t Half-Full.

A few people have asked how I managed to get my writing “swing” back, and I gave a brief rundown in the comments last week.  I thought I’d go into a tad more detail here.

First off: writing has something of an ebb and flow to it—for everyone, I believe.

For me, the “ebb” is like the really steep incline on a rollercoaster.  And then the “flow” is all the free-falling, loop-dee-loop, high-speed ACTION!

Fortunately, the high-energy, high-productivity bits last longer than the crap (usually), and I can ride a “flow” for a few months before the “ebb” hits.  (Not always, of course.  It’s definitely related to stress and other parts of my life.  A period of nail-biting, hair-pulling stress or a week of mind-numbing melancholy can pretty much stop any writing rollercoaster dead in its tracks.)

When the “ebb” hits, I am miserable and reluctant for at least a week, and I usually let myself wallow in laziness.

Which of course, only makes me feel guilty because I should be working, which then feeds the glum mood, which then feeds the guilt… On and on and on.  Sometimes, with enough sour gummy worms (or a looming deadline—those can be very effective), my productivity will return on its own.

But not always.  And that’s when I have to resort to BICHOK—a veritable plunger for your clogged brain.







I MAKE myself sit at the computer.  I disconnect the internet.  I set a timer for 30 minutes.

And I write.  My goal is 500 words, which I know I can write (under pressure) in 15 minutes.  So 30 minutes gives me a comfortable buffer.  I write until I hit 500 words or the alarm sounds.

If I feel good, I set the alarm for another 30 minutes and keep going, but usually, if it’s my first few days back, I jump from the chair and do something else before sitting again.

I start with 1000 words per day—two sessions.  Then, as my comfort grows and my feel for the story increases, I move to 2000 words in 2 1-hour sessions.  Then 3000 in 3 1-hour sessions.  Finally, 4000 in 4 1-hour sessions (remember, I write full-time, so I have a bit more time to devote to it each day).

After a good week or two, the rollercoaster is back in high gear and I’m getting in 20 pages or so a day.  Best of all, I’m back in the “flow”, back in the story, and back to feeling good.

BICHOK For Your Life

After my last rather rough patch of blues, I decided it was time for a Full Life Make-Over.  This was something I did when I suffered from real depression during my undergrad.  I had discovered that though the medication helped stabilize my moods, it also shattering my creativity.

Kind of like with BICHOK, I broke my life up into a very strict schedule.  And, no matter how I felt, I made myself stick to it.  For a week, then two weeks, and then until it became routine and my contentment returned.

I broke my day into strict chunks, making sure there was

  1. at least thirty minutes devoted to being outside
  2. at least thirty minutes devoted to exercise
  3. stretch breaks every 1.5 hours
  4. healthy eating
  5. sleep

Sounds silly and obvious, I know, but bear with me…

In undergrad, I stopped taking the bus to class, and I walked (okay, not on rainy days).  It got me outside and my heartbeat up.   Now, I take my dog for a thirty minute walk/jog in the woods after lunch.  No matter what (even in the rain and snow!), I’ve done this everyday now for 2 weeks.

Do I enjoy it?  To be honest, not really…I get bored easily, so I try to keep my mind focused on my plot and the characters while I walk.

But have I noticed a difference?  Yes.  In my energy.  In my mood.  And I’m really proud I haven’t missed a day.

You tell me: Is there some time in your day you can add a walk outside?  Or is there some way you can add 20-30 minutes of exercise?

During undergrad, I spent a lot of time studying, sitting in class, or working in labs.  To keep my mind and body refreshed, I started stretching in between classes.  Or during study/lab sessions, I’d take a five minute break to move (maybe just jog to the bathroom or roll my shoulders/touch my toes).

I’m not that into yoga (I get so darn boooored), but I’ve taken it before and love a good sun salutation.  When I write, I stop every 1.5 hours to do two sun salutations, refresh my coffee (so walk upstairs and move a little), and stop staring at the computer screen.

When the timer dings beside my computer it means 1) I should have reached my 1000 word goal, and 2) time to salute the sun!

You tell me: Is there any time during your work day or writing time that you can pause to refresh your body and your eyes?  Is there some way you can set a timer and get up for just a minute or two when that timer goes off?

Finally, diet and sleep.  DUH, right?  Everyone tells you this.  All. The. Time.  Eat healthy, you feel better. Get a good night’s sleep, you feel better.

But seriously, if you make a really HUGE effort to go to bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier, you’ll feel the difference the next day!

If you make an effort to plan your meals and have a good, solid breakfast (oh man, breakfast makes all the difference in the world for me!), you’ll really feel a difference.  I was eating crap food for lunches (pasta, pasta, soup, instant rice, pasta), but I’ve been devoted for a few weeks now to eating salads and sandwiches (or, I like to make extra food for dinner and have left-overs).

Two more things I added to my life: a full-spectrum light and plants in my office and vitamin D. If I’m in the office, the light comes on and I water all the plants. When I check my emails (I get 30 minutes in the morning to do this according to the new Super Strict Schedule), I drink my vitamin D.

Does It Really Make a Difference?

I don’t know.  Honestly, I can’t say if my strict schedule and BICHOK are what make the difference in my productivity and happiness, or if it’s something else.

It could be just the EFFORT—the attempt to turn my life around—is what changes my mood. Commitment can feel good.  Getting excited about a new life is a great way to boost your happiness.

What I do know is that this method works for me.  It might not work for you, or you might need more, you might need less.

BUT, it’s something you can try.

Do you do any of these things in your life?  Have you ever tried strict schedules to turn your writing or life around?  Do you have other tips to share?


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.


64 Responses to “BICHOK: Draino for your Writing Clog”

  1. Jan Patterson March 14, 2011 at 3:51 AM #

    Bravo! You are taking positive steps. They make a lot of sense. I just had the courage these last two years to start writing. I love my day job (in Pharmacy) but I find myself writing in spare moments & in the car (if I’m not driving). I need to try the exercise, sleep, & good eating. I’ll try too.See-you inspired me,thanks. :}

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 3:57 AM #

      Woooo! Go Jan! Getting excited is such a great way to get started!

      Oh, and I love that you write wherever you can–that’s SO fantastic! And it motivates me to do the same!

  2. K@ March 14, 2011 at 5:58 AM #

    You inspire me lady. I should leave my house more often. AND NOW I WILL. Especially to exercise.

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 8:50 AM #

      Um, you’re the won who inspires me, so. There. Booyah.
      Seriously, though, how can you say you never leave your house? At least you have a JOB that takes you away from it. Mine doesn’t… AND, I’m not allowed to drive, AND,there’s nothing around me but forests and cows. So…your life seems super happening compared to mine. 🙂

  3. Laura Pauling March 14, 2011 at 6:59 AM #

    I like the new look. And though I don’t usually writer 4K or 20 pages on my most productive days, my cycle is similar! I just have to recognize the ebb for what it is and take the time to read and get stuff done.

    I run almost every day! And it helps.

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 8:52 AM #

      Wow, I’m so impressed by people who can run (or exercise) everyday. I’m walk/running everyday, but it’s not for long. Even when I was at my peak physical fitness and obsessively doing martial arts, I only worked out 5 days a week (although, those were for 3 hour sessions and that’s a whole new world of unhealthy ;)).

      I’m glad you identify with the rollercoaster of ebb/flow. I would guess most people have something similar…

  4. Deb March 14, 2011 at 8:22 AM #

    First post I read this morning and it’s a great one! The schedule for the writing totally works for me, it’s made it a habit. But, the breaks, the betweens, I’ve not done. Getting outside for a walk, hitting the exercise bike….those things to keep it flowing, I _don’t_ do, but I will!

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 8:58 AM #

      Woo! Glad to hear you’re motivated to try! I just got back from my walk as I type this, and I feel so refreshed and ready to get cracking again. And I love hearing you have strict schedule-turned-habit–that’s what I’m working for!

  5. Meredith March 14, 2011 at 8:52 AM #

    Ok, the graphics? Hi-larious! Ahahahaha! I’m with you — making myself sit down and write is an absolute must. Otherwise I would never write. So I make the morning my goofing off/checking email/reading blogs/perusing celebrity gossip sites—I mean reputable news organization websites/etc. The only time I actually have to myself is when my daughter naps, so that is my BICHOK time. I aim for 1,000 words a day, and I almost always exceed it. And then I’m done. It’s not much, but it’s what I can manage, and it makes me feel productive.

    Outside time is also a must. We practically live outside these days. Lots of playing in the backyard, taking the dog for walks, hitting up playgrounds. We’re getting it in before the weather becomes oppressive and we’re forced inside…

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 9:02 AM #

      I think 1K is great! You know Patricia C. Wrede (only one of the most famous YA names who’s been around a WHILE and is still crackin’). She writes 500 words a day, always…and she’s had soooo many books published!! I think the key is daily devotion.

      Plus, I can get in so much because I don’t have a baby to distract me. Jeez, I can recall back when little Asimov was an annoying-ass puppy and all my time was occupied dealing with that. I would think a baby is at least ten times more time-consuming.

      And I’m glad you like my pictures. They were fun to make. 😉

  6. Jan Patterson March 14, 2011 at 9:03 AM #

    Bravo! Keep up the good work.I really enjoy learning from you. I’ve only been serious about my writing for 1 & 1/2 years so- I’m glad for all of the pointers you give us.Good advice-Thanks :}

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 9:05 AM #

      ::blushes:: Thanks. I enjoy your comments. 😉

  7. Savannah J. Foley March 14, 2011 at 9:03 AM #

    I LOVE the little pictures!!!!!!! Might have to ‘borrow’ your idea and start adding paint pics to my own articles. And you look Bichokin’ in your new profile pic 😀

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 9:07 AM #

      Um, YES. Bichokin’ needs to be a new adjective–like “smokin'” or “bitchin'”.

      “Man, look at the bichokin’ cover–I sure hope mine looks as cool.” or “Wow, that’s one bichokin’ laptop case. Do you keep your writing notes in there too?”

      • K@ March 14, 2011 at 10:12 AM #

        I dunno, I feel like “bichokin” couldn’t be use in those situations. “Wow, that’s one butt in chair hands on keyboard case”? Maybe if it implies geeky writerly things…so okay. Kinda like otaku? But not as creepy.

        “I just read this super bitchokin’ book. The writer had the Hero’s Journey down pat.”


        • Susan March 14, 2011 at 10:58 AM #

          Yeah, my thought was it’d only work for writerly geeking out… Like, it sounds pretty cool with Her’s Journey. 😉

          And not as weird as otaku, for sure.

  8. Holly March 14, 2011 at 9:34 AM #

    Yes, a strict schedule is exactly what I have to do to break through that writing barrier. And, really, any barrier. Especially when you throw kids and a job into the mix. Without a schedule that I can stick to, nothing will get done. lol

    Excellent post. 🙂

    • Susan March 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM #

      So true–any barrier. I get really tough with myself at first. Alarm dings, move to next thing, but as my mood and writing flow improve, I can relax some.

      And again, I don’t have the added stress of a kid! I think when lots of other time commitments get thrown into the mix, a routine and strict schedule are critical!

  9. Rowenna March 14, 2011 at 9:51 AM #

    I do try to exercise a couple times a week–and getting outside for a walk always helps me feel refreshed. I’m lucky enough to have a trail a few yards from my front door.

    I also find that regular, creative, challenging, non-writing activities help, too. I go swing dancing once a week (also fab exercise) and play handbells in my church handbell choir. Making my brain work in a different way a couple times a week is a great refresher. Plus, both force interaction with other people–which helps me keep positive.

    But–I don’t strictly schedule writing. I’ve found I’m pretty good at a concentrated effort of writing ending at the same time, coincidentally, that I need to brew some more tea. Must be practice 😛 So I get up, brew some tea, take a short walk, or otherwise shake out the cobwebs! Then back at it.

    • Susan March 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM #

      That’s true that regular other activities are important. In the evenings, I try to spend time with my hubby (when he’s not stuck working overtime at home) doing totally non-writerly things.

      “shake out the cobwebs”–that’s exactly what it is!! I just got in 1500 words in one sitting, but even though the energy is high, I HAD to stop, crack my neck, and move around for a bit. I just can’t go continuously for hours…

    • Caitlin Vanasse March 14, 2011 at 5:39 PM #

      I love that you mention activities that get you out and about with people. As an extrovert I realized a few weeks ago that completely locking myself away from people to avoid distractions and get more work done was actually working against me because without people interaction I was too gloomy to focus!

  10. Sheri Fredricks March 14, 2011 at 10:57 AM #

    Hi Susan~ Your blog post was forwarded to me by a writer friend who knew I could benefit from it. I’ve been trying to figure out my schedule for a few months now, trying different things. I even developed time blocks from 6:30am – 9:30pm. Exercise, getting outside, and eating right are on there. BUT, in the 4 hour stretch I gave myself to write undisturbed, I neglected ME. I’m adding stretching and a timer to my repertoire. Stopping to move is a small price to pay for keeping the flood gates of creativity open while the fire’s hot. BICHOK is not a dirty word 🙂 It’s a survival tool. Great post and it’s nice to meet you.

    • Susan March 14, 2011 at 11:04 AM #

      Hi Sheri! It’s wonderful to have you LTWF! 😀

      I think it’s a normal thing to try to BICHOK a little too hard, but we’re not super heroes! I lose my sanity (and my wrists start to hurt!) if I don’t get up and stretch. I like setting the timer to remind myself, and because I feel like it’s a drill sergeant. “Oh, the timer went off! That means I HAVE to get up RIGHT now and do a sun salutation.”

      🙂 I hope we see you here more!!

  11. Amity Thompson March 14, 2011 at 11:19 AM #

    Vitamin D saved me. I moved north and had severe Seasonal Affective Disorder for 3 yrs, so bad that my hubby feared coming home to a note saying I’d fled south (sooooo not in my character!). This winter, I take several thousand IU’s of D….and I haven’t fallen into depression once (except the week I had the flu, and didn’t take…it took several days of D before I bounced back emotion-wise).

    For me, I couldn’t even bring myself to do the exercise, healthy eating, etc, until I got the D. Now I’m able to anything! And for the first winter in three years, I’ve written–50K of a novel, got an agent (we share an agent! ;)) and went through revisions. I never could have done that last year.

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 12:12 PM #

      I wish I had discovered vitamin D sooner. Blast and double blast! But from now on, it will be my winter companion. I’m from Georgia, and all that southern sun is what I grew up with. Adjusting to German (and before that, Canadian) gray skies has been…I’m not adjusting!!! 🙂

      And yay for sharing an agent !!! WICKED!

  12. SKendall March 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM #

    The shark plunger is my new favorite thing. As is Ken and Berry’s ice cream.

    Great post, Susan! Very thoughtful, as always 🙂

    • sdennard March 14, 2011 at 12:10 PM #

      Score. Shark plungers will be my new approach to all clogs. Crap stuck in your drain? GET OUT MY RAZOR-TOOTHED PLUNGER WITH “LASERS”! So very Dr. Evil.

  13. katharine March 14, 2011 at 2:51 PM #

    thanks for sharing this Susan– you are right on the money. I agree with the dog walk theory. It makes a huge difference.

    • Susan March 14, 2011 at 5:24 PM #

      At first, I would get super bored taking the dog for walks longer than five minutes, but now…well, now I really like it. And it REALLY clears my head. Plus, the dog loves it. 🙂

      • Caitlin Vanasse March 14, 2011 at 5:45 PM #

        Often times I’ll volunteer for dog walking time at home when I really want some time away from my (wonderful) family, but I almost always listen to a book or podcast on my ipod or call a friend when I’m walking them because let’s face it, squirrels are not nearly as interesting to me as they are to my dogs. It makes my family happy too, esp. in the middle of winter, because the dogs are SO needy.

        • Susan March 14, 2011 at 5:49 PM #

          I do the audiobook/podcast thing when I clean house! Pretty effective for keeping my mind occupied. Clearly you and I both get bored easily. Do you do yoga? I found that impossible because my brain just couldn’t switch off…

          And yeah, dog walking can be dull, but lately I’ve found it’s a good time to think about how I’ll approach the next scenes I’m writing.

  14. Sammy Bina March 14, 2011 at 4:09 PM #

    Sooz, you know I Love Lucy is better than Mary Tyler Moore, right?

    • Susan March 14, 2011 at 5:25 PM #

      Dude, different ERA. Yeah, I LOVE LUCY is uh-may-zing. So is MTM. And so is THE MUNSTERS and HAPPY DAYS and THE WONDER YEARS and…ya know. 😉 I grew up on original Nick At Nite, so I know ’em all.

  15. Stephanie Relf March 14, 2011 at 6:17 PM #

    I always get motivated after these sorts of posts!!
    The only writing structure I’ve ever had has been NaNoWriMo which I love so I don’t know why I don’t do that to myself more often!!
    I’m definitely going to start challenging myself (My Mum even bought me an egg-timer LOL!!!) And I guess I could walk to school rather than get the bus …

    • sdennard March 15, 2011 at 3:24 AM #

      I’m glad you like these! And yeah, if NaNo works well for you, maybe you can “extract” parts to add to your daily routine…?

      And heck yeah on the egg timer! Let me know if it works for you!! 🙂

  16. Ashley March 14, 2011 at 7:02 PM #

    Awesome! Just the thing I needed to get the old brain in “writing mode”. Thanks Sooz, as always you’re the best! 🙂

    • sdennard March 15, 2011 at 3:20 AM #

      Thanks, Ashley! ❤ ❤

  17. Margo March 14, 2011 at 10:01 PM #

    Discovered you from Victoria Dixon’s blog and this is exactly what I needed to hear, in the midst of a little seasonal blue period and a two-week long writer’s stall too. Yay for BICHOK! setting timers and taking walks! and I love the sketch of the TV and Ben & Jerrys and non-alcoholic promise 🙂

    • sdennard March 15, 2011 at 3:22 AM #

      Gosh, thanks, Margo–for dropping by and for saying you liked this! 🙂 Welcome to LTWF!!

      Let me know if this helps you kick the blues and writing mope! It (obviously) helped me immensely!

  18. Jennifer March 14, 2011 at 11:08 PM #

    asdgjagdhsaghdasjh YES. I’ve had BICHOK written on my whiteboard since Wednesday, and I’ve been using it to do schoolwork. Not writing, per se, but Quite Important.

    That ebb-and-flow roller coaster is the best thing I have ever seen. Ever.

    • sdennard March 15, 2011 at 3:23 AM #

      BICHOK is definitely good for schoolwork as well…or work-work…or ANYTHING that needs a chair and a desk.

      And I’m glad you liked my rollercoaster. The loops are the best part. 😉

  19. Girl Friday March 15, 2011 at 2:00 AM #

    Hah I love your pictures 😀 Thanks for this post, very inspiring, I really need to get out of the house more often and setting small goals like just going for a 30-minute walk a day is a great idea for someone as lazy as me!

    • sdennard March 15, 2011 at 3:26 AM #

      I LOVE small goals. I literally right down every TINY thing in my day planner so I can enjoy SLASHING through it when I’m finished. 🙂 The most inane things are in there, like “Brush teeth, wash dishes, fold laundry, vacuum hall, vacuum kitchen, vacuum living room” (notice that 3 vacuums offers the chance for more satisfaction than the catch-all “vacuum” ;)).

  20. Carrie March 15, 2011 at 4:16 AM #

    Inspiring post, Susan! Thanks for sharing your changes. You make me want to do better and that is always a good thing. (P.S. LOVE the steampunk picture!)

    • sdennard March 15, 2011 at 4:57 AM #

      I think just getting excited about change is such a great start to actual change! 🙂

      And thanks–I’m rather proud of that picture (and the whole photoshoot) myself. 😉

  21. Tracey Neithercott March 15, 2011 at 10:07 AM #

    Great reminder to get away from the computer every now and then. I get sucked in and end up sitting for hours without realizing it.

    I think what helps me the most is being organized. If my inbox is clean, my writing space organized, and my house more or less neat, I can focus on the writing without doing a bunch of tidying up.

    The one thing I can’t do: Get more sleep. I’m such a night owl that I write my best in the evening. I’d be lucky to get a good 100 words out in the morning. It’s horrible, I know, but I rely on weekends to make up for my weekday lack of sleep!

    • sdennard March 15, 2011 at 11:20 AM #

      I SOOO agree with the clean thing! I’m kinda NUTS about having my office clean… The cats aren’t allowed in (all that hair! On my desk! AAAHH!) and I keep a vacuum constantly plugged in so I can suck up dog hair the instant it falls… 😛 I also like to have a cleared off desk, pens organized, and lots of space for setting things down (I think I have three “extra” tables beside my desk for jut holding things).

      And yeah, I’m the opposite! I’m not really a morning person, but I definitely write best before lunch! 🙂

  22. Brandi March 15, 2011 at 2:52 PM #

    OMG Susan I love the schedule you’ve put together for yourself. I’m all about strictness and schedules! And I agree, for me it’s the effort of making commitments and seeking better things for my life that make me feel better. Thank you for sharing this insightful post 🙂

    • sdennard March 17, 2011 at 7:08 AM #

      You’re SO welcome, Brandi!! I love schedules–at least at first when I’m trying to establish a “new life”. Eventually, it becomes natural and I can lighten up on myself. 😉

  23. Ka.thy Br.adey March 16, 2011 at 2:10 AM #

    BICHOK – FTW! 😀

    • sdennard March 17, 2011 at 7:09 AM #

      Hahaha, yes!! FTW!! 😀

  24. Regan Leigh March 17, 2011 at 1:15 AM #

    Such a great post and I love the drawings. lol 🙂 I have suffered the extreme writer eating rollercoaster this past year. We do just have to ride it at times, but you’re right about all the ways we can try and help/control it. 😉

    • sdennard March 17, 2011 at 7:11 AM #

      It’s definitely true we have to just ride the rollercoaster–when life is particularly hectic or in-limbo, for example. But…I had no excuse for being as lazy and unhealthy as I was, and I didn’t feel GOOD. Making changes has made me instantly feel better. And you’re right: there are things we can control, and sometimes it helps you feel more in-control of those things in your life that are stressful and less predictable (job things, family issues, etc.). 🙂

  25. Madeleine March 19, 2011 at 2:44 PM #

    I’ve been clogged for about six months now.

    Talk about depressing, right? And it’s not just writing – it’s blogging and reading as well.

    I’m hoping I can wiggle myself into a stricter schedule (something I used to be good at), but it takes time and energy – two things I have every little of. Still, I’m working on it.



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