Discipline and your writing

Discipline can be a wonderful thing!

For many new writers, the idea of applying discipline to their writing is like applying a whip. Who can write under a whip, they protest. It would kill my inspiration! But sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike will eventually kill your writing career. (Notice I said career – if you want to write purely for enjoyment, go for it!) Any writer who has a list of publications will tell you that it can only be achieved by discipline. You may write one or two stories, a handful of poems, a picture book or a novel – and get them published. But a career comes from sustained effort, from an ongoing publication record, and the only way to achieve that is to do lots of writing.

Why lots? Because in the early days, you will need to write a lot in order to find the gems, to work out what is worth rewriting ten times, and simply to get into the habit of writing no matter what. You also have to write a lot so that you can come to the realization (everyone has to do this for themselves) that the more you write, and the more you read, the more ideas you will have. And you need lots of ideas. Spending two years on one picture book or poem is not helpful.

Five years on one novel, however, might be. As long as you really do spend five years of writing time on it, not a couple of weeks or months spread over those five years. Discipline means a certain number of hours per week, however you might spread those hours. Without constant, sustained effort you won’t create significant work. There it is in a nutshell. So what are some strategies for doing this (despite your other “real” life that will hammer on your door and demand you put it first)?

  1. Set a regular time every day – either when you get up (if you are a morning person), at lunchtime while you eat, or before you go to bed (if you are a night person). If you can stick to this time for 28 days in a row, you will be on your way to a great writing habit.
  2. If you work and use a diary – of any kind – make an appointment with yourself every day to write. One day it might be 15 minutes at lunch, the next day you might find a half-hour. Don’t let anything else take that time. Write it in – give it a code if you don’t want to reveal what that appointment is for. Stick to it.
  3. If you work at home, write first. This is a vital key to writing when other things call (especially family or work that has no deadline). Instead of checking your emails, write first for 20 minutes. No matter what. Do it for 28 days in a row and see what happens.
  4. At least twice a week, work to find an hour. I mean, really work at finding this hour. Reschedule things. Turn off Facebook. Turn off the phone. Look at your list of all the reasons why you said you had no time to write. Choose the ones that are the least enjoyable and the most flexible and substitute writing instead.

If this sounds boring and dictator-ish to you, then stop for a minute or two and think about your writing and what you want to achieve with it. Then think about how long you have been writing, and how much you have to show for it. Finally, think about what the connections are between the two. There you may find some answers, perhaps some truths you need to think about, and some strategies of your own.

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