The Pleasures of Discipline

In my time as a writer, one persistent myth I’ve noticed, which clings to even seasoned writers, is that one should wait for inspiration. One doesn’t need to force words out with something as tedious and dull as discipline. Just let the words come naturally, as if by magic which came from rainbows farted out of a unicorn’s asshole.

Just like rainbows farted out of a unicorn’s asshole, the idea that most writers can get anywhere without discipline is false.

The idea of getting anywhere as a writer without consistently applying discipline to sit down and work is ridiculous at best. Writing is similar to sports in this way. Athletes must train and work hard to get better at their sport, and to stay in top condition so they will perform better and consistently. Like athletes, writers must apply discipline and train regularly, with things like having a set writing schedule. Like athletes, writers use training time to get better and stay fit. The mind is like a body, and when you work with the mind training makes that mind more focused, better conditioned, and more agile. It means that when you do have inspiration your mind is better prepared to augment it.

A mind without discipline or consistent conditioning is the kind more liable to be hurt, just like an athlete who refuses to train properly or consistently. Those who depend on inspiration will more likely burn out, or not develop a certain fortitude and patience. They give up when the inspiration drains away. They don’t commit. They haven’t the patience to do something over a long period of time, which is what many writing projects require. Neither do they have the fortitude to stick it out when it’s hard, when there is no inspiration. All of these things would be of no consequence to the slow and steady writer. Inspiration gone? Always carry on.

The disciplined writer might not have those bursts of inspiration or passion which produce a great deal, quantity-wise, but they have the advantage of producing work of an even quality over an extended, long-lasting period of time. By contrast the writer who relies on bursts of passion will, as noted, stop once their inspiration is gone. The slow and steady writer keeps going regardless. Over time slow and steady will easily out-strip bursts of passion.

One obvious way to apply discipline is to set a writing schedule, a time which is specifically set aside for you to write. This is definitely not a joyless, unhappy thing. Far from it: it is a joyful, amazing step. It shows your commitment to your writing, to your creativity and your dreams.

Setting a schedule for writing doesn’t need to be draconian, either. Your schedule could have you writing every day. But it could equally have you writing three times a week, once a week, maybe even just certain days of the month. Also, schedules should be flexible because life happens. But it’s the setting aside of time which is the real magic. Again, it’s an affirmation of your creative life, of your dreams and visions.

Disciplined writers endure and flourish over time. I’ve seen it over and over again: someone who started with the seed of an idea and worked patiently, consistently over time to complete it, until it was finally published.

Writing is so much a journey. And discipline is one of your friends on this journey, more than anything. You should not rob yourself of the pleasures discipline can bring.

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