D is for Discipline

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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Almost all writers love writing. This may be partly a learned love, given that they have a compulsion to write and should try to enjoy themselves as they bleed stories from their fingertips, but they love it nonetheless. Even in the throes of writing-induced despair (or the even more common and maddening search for That One Word Come On You Know the One I Think It Starts With T), no writer I know would consider giving up the craft.

Unfortunately, love and compulsion can only bring you so far. Sometimes, gloriously, it will carry you through a story in one long, continuous burst so that you fall out of the world for several months and return to a bewildered family and a stack of unread mail, but this is rare. Far more often, the compulsion will carry you to your desk chair and then go on its merry way while you stare at your blank page and consider writing a book composed entirely of “flargle,” which seems to be the only word you can now remember.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have discipline on your side, and that if you don’t yet have discipline on your side, you can. Discipline, it turns out, is not so much a thing you either have or don’t, but instead is a habit. Pretty cool, huh? And you can get it in little baby steps.

First, find five minutes every day. Barricade yourself in the bathroom, retreat into the bedroom to “change,” take a few minutes when you arrive at the store but before you go in – this time can be anywhere. But remember to take it every day. Bring along a trusty notepad or computer, and brainstorm, or write a few lines. About what, you ask? Whatever comes out. There’s some sort of wild misconception that you must have four hours to spare in order to get anything done, but that’s simply not true. Five minutes seems like an amount of discipline you have, right?

Step two: make it into a hobby. Hire a babysitter, get up an hour early, do whatever you need to do, but set aside a larger amount of time at some point the week. Think of your writing like you would think about exercise, or kickball, or violin lessons: a legit hobby. Every adult gets hobbies. They help keep your life wonderful.

Now set a goal! No, no, not a crazy goal. Just a little goal. You want to finish a short story, maybe. Perhaps you want to write until you get one sentence you’re really proud of, each time (it takes a few, let me tell you). My first goal was getting a chapter done each week. It could really be anything, but the point is that you have one. It gives purpose to your discipline.

Now hold the line. You and your manuscript will proceed to have some real knock-down-drag-out fights. You will sit down and stare blankly at an MS Word document for three hours while not a single word gets written. Or perhaps you will get some words written and you will get back the next day and discover that they are crap. Your brain will give you several very good reasons that writing is a Stupid Idea and that you should take up baking or tap-dance instead, but don’t stand for that crap. Hold the line. Get in your writing time.

Become completely obsessed. Frankly, after goal-setting I was completely lost. I vaguely remember googling what I needed to do to publish a book, and then there was an unpleasant period of querying agents, some depression and tea, and the encouragement of my friends and family to self-publish. More googling. And now here we are and I’m not quite sure when 30 minutes per day turned into 3-4 hours, and most of my weekends. It just…happened. So, you know, remember to eat and hydrate and so on. Get some sunshine. This stuff can take over your life if you let it – the problem isn’t really so much acquiring discipline, as learning how to stop.

Authors, anything to add? Readers? Comment below!

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