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Writing Life: Discipline

You don’t write because you don’t want to. There’s something more important to you than sitting down to a blank page with a story to tell. It would be nice to write a story, but there are dishes to be done, and that check never made it to the bank, and before you know it Monday has come around and nobody has time to write during the week.

I don’t blame you. It’s hard to harness ideas and produce a piece that you’re satisfied with — let alone produce a piece that you’re satisfied with. There’s a million ideas in my head but it takes more than just ideas to get words on a page. Plenty of ideas wither away and are forgotten. Some ideas are never worth writing in the first place. So how do we get from good ideas to good writing, on the page, consistently?

Discipline helps you write more often

You are a writer. Prove it by writing, often. Discipline yourself to produce, even if it’s unreadable drivel. The act of writing will make you a better writer, and, more importantly, get you to write more often. If you can build the habit (insert link) of writing daily, or often, you will reap the benefits. Being in the practice of writing keeps my mind working in writerly ways.

The best way I’ve found to write often is to find things that I’m excited about writing. While discipline may seem like forcing yourself to do something you really don’t want to do, I’ve found that this way of thinking will only make you quit all the sooner. Instead, think of discipline as creating circumstances where it is more likely you’ll hit your goals.

For example, I have devotions at 5:30. No human should be up at 5:30, and every ounce of me wants to crawl back into my warm bed. Every morning. So I highlight in my Bible to keep me focused on reading the words for what they are. Slowing down and taking the conscious act of highlighting helps me to see the burning truth in the words — even at 5:30.

In the same way, I try to create favorable circumstances around my writing by treating myself. Morning coffee comes with writing: always a good motivator. I only write about what excites me, for another. If these are things that I want the world to know, that make up my heartbeat, I won’t have trouble writing about them. If you’re trying to write something you don’t care about, you may as well be writing a blender operator’s manual.

Use discipline to set yourself up for success, and keep yourself in the habit of writing often.

Discipline teaches you the language of writing

If you want to be a writer, discipline will take you from ideas to execution. Once you’re writing often, you will become familiar with writing. Writing often gives you experience with the words on a page that you’re producing. You must learn how they fall off your pen and how they flow onto that lined paper. The best way to learn how words work is to use them. Experience and practice will be your best teachers.

Disciplining yourself to write often teaches you the creases and folds of good writing. You learn the paths to certain goals, you learn your own writing voice, and you learn what you really want to talk about. With time, practiced familiarity with the page will grow up. It won’t mean that you’ll have something amazing to write every time you sit down at the page, but it does mean that when you have something amazing to write, you’ll know how to do it.

Disciplining yourself to write often teaches you the patterns of good writing.

Discipline primes the pump for good writing

It’s always better to just write than to worry about the quality, the originality, and all the other details that plague writers. Will it win the pulitzer? No, of course not. But it’s important because it gets you writing. This is why I try to write daily. Once you are writing daily and you have learned the language of writing, your pump is primed for good writing. The backdrop to any good writing is the constant flow of ideas, good or not.

In other words, when you force yourself to write, you’re just more likely to come out with the good stuff. When you’re in the practice of writing, no matter how good the idea is, the barrier to entry will be very low when that really good idea comes. Because you’re in the habit of a constant flow of words, the good idea will come out of your head just like all the others do. Unlike all the others, though, it’s a diamond in the rough, and once you have it on paper you can cut it and polish it. But it’s only because you’ve primed the pump that you even found that diamond at all.

Now, stop reading and go hunting for diamonds.