Be a Disciplined Writer

Be a Disciplined Writer

When we're finished with a writing project, we're often tempted to break the hard writing routine and kick back for a while. We need time to decompress and push writing away for a while; we need to relax and just not think. While it's important to decompress and reward ourselves after a project, it's equally important to maintain the discipline of writing. I am only a wary believer in the sudden strike of inspiration as a source for our ideas; I am more inclined to believe that if we work hard and regularly, we'll be all the more ready when inspiration strikes. This Picasso quotation is important to my working philosophy: "When inspiration comes, I want it to find me working."

Start a habit

So how do we establish that tough writing discipline? It can begin with modest but inflexible goals. Teachers in my MFA program have said that they try to write two pages a day, every day. Two pages aren't that many, but they're enough to make big strides in novels or stories. To begin a habit, you must begin it! Make a tick mark on your calendar every time you have successfully written that day's two pages. See how many days in a row you can go without breaking the habit. Give yourself a small physical reward once you've done your work - for example, you're only allowed to go for a walk or eat a snack once the day's writing has been done.

Make reading part of the discipline.

It's important to remember that part of a writer's job (and pleasure) is reading. Craftsmen have to spend time practicing their craft; doctors have to refresh themselves about the latest medical diagnoses and procedures. Similarly, writers need to read to hone their craft, but they also need to read regularly in order to swim in medium of words on a regular basis. My writing and language always becomes sharper, more pointed and real and original, when I've been dousing myself in the language of writers I love.

So part of my writing discipline includes reading something every day whenever possible. I carry a book with me all the time; I do most of my reading on the go.

When no writing comes, use exercises.

Whatever modest regular writing goal you set for yourself, it doesn't have to be related to your main project. Just the act of wrestling with some words can help keep the discipline alive. If you're just not feeling your story or novel one day, try checking out Writerly Life's inspiration category for photos and prompts that will get you to write quickly. I find prompts to be a great way to keep myself from tiring on any particular project; it brings fresh life to my long projects. And ultimately, the discipline of writing will combat rather than enhance staleness; it will make you best prepared to seize a moment of inspiration and make the most of it.