Monday, August 08, 2011

When All Else Fails -- Discipline

One of the most wonderful things in the world, at least for me and those like me, is writing. One of the worst things in the world is not writing, at least as far as being prolific is concerned, or finding oneself unable or unwilling to write. That's where discipline and habit come in.

The act of writing is a choice for some, a necessity for a few, and an addiction for others. Writing is more than just putting words on the page, virtual or paper. It's a calling and a curse. It's joy and sorrow and heartbreak and proof of life and heart and mind and determination. Without putting too fine a point on things, in order to be viable as a writer, as a published writer, it is necessary to develop, learn, or get into the habit of writing, to be disciplined. Often, discipline is the only thing that will keep a writer going when the going is hard and there seems to be no other way to get the words down.

It takes six weeks to create a habit and a lifetime to keep it going. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, writes about his daily regimen, his habit, his discipline and everything he does to make it happen. Even on vacation in England, he continued to write; he doesn't believe in taking days off. The result of his discipline is an impressive body of work.

I remember a story about a 19th century writer who worked in the local post office. He got up early in the morning and wrote for a specified amount of time, shutting himself in his room to write. When he finished one book, he didn't rest on his laurels or allow himself the luxury of marketing, networking, socializing, or post publishing blues, he picked up another sheet of paper and began his next book, continuing to write until his time was up and he must leave for work. That is discipline, and it is also commitment to the task.

As I've struggled with moving forward on the latest book, I've found that I have lost steam, lost headway in the process. I let the book sit for too long and have had trouble getting back into the minds of my characters -- at least on a conscious level. Unconsciously, all the characters are there, especially my narrator, and she speaks to me at odd times -- most often while I'm sleeping. The only trick (and it's not really a trick per se) I know is to just get on with the business of writing, keep the fingers typing and the pen full of ink and moving across the page. I cannot afford to let this book drop out of sight because it is a good book, an interesting book full of all kinds of contradictions, surprises, truths, and a fair amount of horror. What I have lost, other than time, is that forward momentum that propelled me through the last book in two weeks. That's what I need now.

Since I'm out of the disciplined habit of writing every day at the same time (I prefer early in the predawn hours because I tend to be more focused and creative at that hour), it's time to get back into the groove and rebuild my habit, reforge the discipline necessary to get through this rough patch.

Writing isn't all champagne launches and standing room only queues of fans waiting for a moment to hobnob with the author and get a signature on a copy of the book. Writing is like anything else that is worth doing -- a long hard slog at the worst of times and a determined one foot in front of the other procession down the path without side trips.

Back into the breach I go, full of determination and knowing that what comes out at first may well and truly suck, but will get easier and better with time -- with discipline.

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to writing I go.

If you're having trouble getting the words onto the page and can't seem to get them just right, the only thing left to do is write and keep writing and then, in the cold harsh light of day, go back through and edit, rewrite, and do what's necessary to turn the straw into gold. You may find that some of that straw glistens already and what you thought was sub par may be better than you hoped.

Discipline is the key to keep going and the fear of the page or failure or success or whatever is bothering you will fade away as the daily writing habit kicks in. Don't let it fool you. Vacations are optional and there will always be time for that hour or two or five when it's you and the page and the words.

Good writing.

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