Writing A Book – Discipline

Still Life With Time

In our Writing a Book series, yesterday, we talked about finding time. Today, let’s talk about discipline.

Writing a Book – Discipline

One of the most difficult parts of writing a book has nothing to do with the work, exactly. It has everything to do with sitting still, and putting the words down on paper (and “paper” is so quaint to say in this digital age, but when I interviewed Ryan Blair, he said that he wrote his book longhand on paper). Discipline is probably 80% of what keeps someone from writing a book. But it’s not like you can’t do it. It’s not like you can’t exercise these muscles.

Allies To Discipline

My first advice about discipline: get an accountability buddy. Find someone (or a group of someones), and make it know that you’ve got a goal of writing ___ words a day (or week, or whatever), and that you want them to hound you about it. Be really specific about what helps and what doesn’t. If shame helps, ask them to shame you (frankly, that would cripple me, but hey). If they catch you on Facebook when you should be writing, have them push you back off. Give them your cell and ask them to text you daily. Make them nag the heck out of you. (I learned this from Julien Smith.)

Discipline Comes From Early Victories

If you decide to write 2000 words a day and you’re currently writing 25 words a day, then you’re going to fail quickly. Maybe set the bar a bit lower. Agree to 500 words (less than that and you’re still phoning it in), and set your sights on getting that done a bunch of times in a row. The more you can repeat the success, the more the success treats you well, and makes you strive for even more. Rack up those “wins” with your accountability buddies. Heck, give yourself promises of rewards. Whatever it takes to get the work done, that’s what matters.

Justification Is the Enemy

There are a hundred viable excuses why you can’t get your words in today. You can write them all out in a list, if you’d like. Refer to it often. You woke up late. You slept poorly. You had to pick up the kids, even though it wasn’t your day.

Here’s a hint: the real writers have all those excuses, too. They just do what needs doing.

One of the biggest justifications I’ve heard is that inspiration wasn’t with you. That’s possibly true. But guess what happens? The moment you write, even if you’re writing crap, inspiration will catch up with your process. And besides, if you’ve kept a decent amount of notes, and if you’ve got a reasonably detailed outline, you can work without inspiration. Inspiration is something you get early in the process. Once you’re into the grind, most of the work is just that: work.

Discipline Doesn’t Mind Helpers

If you’re trying to eat healthy, fill your fridge with healthy foods and throw out “bad” foods. It’s not wrong to put up ‘bumpers’ to protect yourself from a lack of discipline. Here’s a hint: if you’re working on the ultimate playlist to write to, that’s not helpful. Yes, maybe some great tune will inspire you, but anything that’s not writing is just that: not writing.

Use whatever helpers you need. Unplug your Internet for a while. Turn off the phone for a while. Shut off the TV. Send the kids to Grandma’s. Whatever you have to do, do it. And use whatever means necessary (mostly legal, but I’m not above other means) to keep your discipline protected. Work hard, and then work hard at preserving the efforts of your work.

At the End Of It All, It’s Still Work

Writing a book isn’t as demanding as roofing. Both, however, are work. Just because writing can happen at a Starbucks, with a delicious iced coffee sitting beside you collecting droplets of moisture, it doesn’t mean that the effort of getting all those words put together in useful ways isn’t work.

Dorothy Parker famously said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”

She’s not wrong.

Tomorrow, let’s talk about structure.

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