August 26, 2013

The Importance of Discipline

Dear M,

I think this is a topic I should have spoken to you about first - the importance of discipline in writing. Anyone who is not prepared to lead a disciplined life with respect to writing, should stop aspiring to be a writer. Everything else comes after that. Discipline is as important - I dare say, more so - than skill and talent. It is tightly interwoven with hard-work.

I have already mentioned that unless you take writing seriously, you will never become a serious writer. You are a writer because you write. But you will never be exceptional. If your goal is to be an average writer then nothing else matters.

Among my "real" friends, no one takes writing as seriously as I do. Among my virtual (online) friends there are many. In fact I connected with them because they are writers. They are possibly more dedicated and involved in writing than I am. Some do not even have a day job, they get all the day to do their writing (for which I sometimes envy them). Many of them have fixed writing times, and more often than not, they succeed in not letting anyone disturb them.

Among my real friends, however, there are many who would like to publish the "next big" book. Their idea excites them, their dream probably drives them. They have come asking me for advice, because I am the only one in their circle who can claim to have some experience. They ask, "Give me some tips on how to write." I want to tell them about discipline. To the first few who asked, I did. Then I stopped. Now I reply, "There is only one tip: Sit down and write. Daily." They are clearly not pleased, they expect some short cuts that rip them right through the difficult writing part and come to rest in the best-seller part.

That is all there is to it, really. Sit down and write. Everything else comes afterwards. You decide how much you can write, or for how long. Daily. Either it is 500 words per day. Or it is for one hour every day. Or it is eight hours a week. Whatever works for you, taking into consideration all other priorities: family, career, responsibilities, emergencies. And during that fixed time you have set, do nothing else but write. No chores, no pending responsibilities, no work, no social media, no emails, no phone calls. After all, we aren't doing it for anyone else, we are doing it for ourselves. And for that very same reason, the fact that we are our own bosses, it is easy to procrastinate. My "next big book" friends tell me, I really can't find time to write. I have so many other things to do. I don't tell them, everyone does, but that is what I think.

I talk big about discipline, but I am not great on that front. My work hinders with my writing, my chores distract me, my pending responsibilities worry me. To disclose a secret, discipline was one reason why I started these daily letters. My goal is a minimum of 300 words every morning. That sets the pace, and in half an hour or one hour I have the feeling that I have achieved something. Even though I get nothing else done for the rest of the day! But the fact is that once this is done, I have energy and inspiration to run me through the rest of the difficult business.

So what if I am not perfect at it? At least I know and acknowledge its importance. And I strive towards it, though my work might suffer, my chores remain undone, my responsibilities are neglected, my people complain that I don't call them.
Which is the first step in attaining some semblance of discipline.


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