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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


By Debra Holland

Self-discipline and inspiration are two words that don’t seem to go together. Inspiration sounds creative and exciting. Self-discipline, on the other hand, sounds like hard work.

If your muse flashes you an interesting idea, (if you’re like me) you gather a stack of scribbled notes full of character sketches, plot details, and dialogue fragments. Yet without the self-discipline to actually write, nothing will come of your brilliant story.

I’m not saying that self-discipline alone will lead to a successful writing goal. You do need the spark of inspiration. Yet all your creativity won’t be enough unless you “sit your butt in the chair in front of your computer.”

These days, almost everyone has crazy busy lives. The “no time” excuse is valid for almost all of us. But even when I have time, I often don’t utilize it well. I putter around the house in avoidance mode. I’m sure some of you are nodding agreement as you read this.

I recently returned from the RWA national conference. This time something really struck me about successful authors—the seriousness of their writing routine. Over and over again, I heard best-selling authors mention the rigidity of their schedules. “I write from 9 to 5 every day.” Or, “I write a chapter a day.”

Now, this is not new information to me. I’ve heard comments like these many times. But for some reason, the concept sank deep into my brain. I returned from the conference resolved to be more self-disciplined about my writing time.

I know from my own experiences (and that of others) that story inspiration comes easier when you write (at least a little) every day. It’s as if you’re opening up a spiritual spigot, and the creative energy flows forth. Some days in a gush, others a trickle. But at least it comes.

If you don’t write every day, or almost every day, you’re shutting off this flow. The spigot could even rust shut, leaving you blocked and afraid you’ll never be able to write again. It’s not that you can’t turn it back on (although the process might involve a lot of hammering.) But why handicap yourself when you KNOW (somewhere in your day) you can slip a few paragraphs into a notebook or your computer. If you can’t think of anything to write about, you can still journal or blog.

Last week in my plot group, we discussed the concept of keeping a daily log of the time you write, what you’re working on, and how much you write. I learned that the authors who track themselves are also successful at keeping to a schedule. For the last few days, I’ve started doing this. There’s something about writing down my start time in my organizer, which makes me actually begin the work. I’ve made more progress than I normally would have, so I intend to keep it up.

Due to my consulting work as a corporate grief/crisis counselor, I can’t stick to a set writing routine. I never know when I’ll get the call that summons me to a company to help them deal with whatever crisis has just occurred. But I can still write every day—at least half a page. And if I do this, my inspirational flow will continue. A page a day means a book in a year. That’s all it takes. J

How about joining me?

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At 8:30 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

I like the idea of tracking how much actual time we're spending with butt in chair. It's sort of like a food diary. I'm going to try it and see if I up my page counts. I'll also be able to see that I am making more progress than I think. I get stuck in focusing on how much isn't done rather than on seeing how much I've accomplished.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Isn't it odd how you can hear the same information several times, but then you hear it just once more and it's like a light bulb goes off? It's happened to me more than once -- in writing and in college chemistry class. :)

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

That's really true, Trish.

I spent some time at conference noticing characteristics of successful writers, too. An awful lot of them were pantsers, but I'm not going to let that bother me. :D

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Definitely true, Debra. The writers who succeed consistently all seem to pursue writing creatively on a daily basis.

I've never been good at sticking to a schedule, but it was actually easier when I worked full time. Now I look at my time more in terms of getting a task done than in working at specific times.

When I run into an author who is significantly blocked, I usually can see that she has allowed herself to not write on a daily basis, but she hasn't allowed herself to let go of the ideal of being a writer. So she is caught between the two, and becomes a writer who isn't doing it. That's a miserable place to be. I've been there.

I decided this year I don't want to be the non-writing writer. I did let that go for most of this last year, partly to see whether I should let go of writing altogether, and I reached the conclusion that I need to write. Therefore I'd better be writing. Every day.

So even on those days while I was on vacation, I saw to it I did some writing every day. Several days, it was no more than a few paragraphs, but I did them.

Now that's what I tell writers who have been severely blocked. Just sit down and write three sentences today, and tuck them away in a named file.

Tomorrow, write six sentences. The next day, write one page. From then on if you can only write one page, do that, but do it. Just do it. Make that your commitment, to write one page. If you can't write anything on your WIP, write on a different story. Write something creatively. Every day. If at the end of the day you haven't done it, then do it then. Just do it.

Dreaming's great, but doing's better.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

THis is a definite challenge for me, Debra. I know I have to organize my time better or live in stress. I need a better writing schedule and I need to learn to not be distracted by the ancillary things that have to do with blogging :-)

At 4:08 PM, Blogger janegeorge said...

I hear you, Diane. But I'm glad you blog! When you shared your deadline experiences on the Risky Regencies blog, that glimpse into the life of a working writer was tremendously helpful.

The message from this year's RWA conference for me was, "Build your team." I kept hearing those words like someone had a bullhorn to my ear. I tend to be the type who says, "Let's put on a show in the old barn and I can write the script, sew the curtains, paint the backdrop, do the sound, bake the cookies for intermission, etc." It's time to share the joy and work well with others. Grumble, grumble.

Trish, I won your book, Heartbreak River, in your workshop and am eager to read it as it is almost to the top of my National TBR pile now.

But perhaps I shouldn't mention TBR piles in a post about self-discipline and time management...

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've joined this club on yahoogroups-club100writers. You write a minimum of 100 words a day and you report to the group. So far, it's working well for me. This is my 38th day. At the end of the 100 days, you get a tiara!
You have to publish to the group how you are going to accomplish the goal-are you going to write every day for 100 days? Are you going to give yourself a day off during the week or once a month? I opted not to give myself any days off for the first 100 days, because I'm very undisciplined. The publishing of my daily word count to the group has been amazingly good for me.


At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Caro Kinkead said...

I think tracking the time spent writing is a great idea. There are times I sit down and the time just seems to disappear. If I track it, maybe I'll spend more time writing and less time putzing about on line. I've been doing far too much putzing lately.


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