Every writer has something that keeps him or her from the page.
What keeps me from the page?
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
The thing I lack, and the thing I desire, is the very thing keeping me from the page: self-control.
To use a more austere term: discipline.
Reflecting on the concept, it has been resonating in my head for many years. I was reminded of a poem I wrote eleven years ago (thank goodness my OCD-filing tendencies are useful) and no, you cannot read it.
But from this distance of time, why is there a huge gap between writing poetry more than a decade ago and resuming writing three years ago?
The simple and most direct answer is this: I lack discipline.
Guess I’m a slow learner.
Lack of discipline in a writer leaves ideas floundering in the wilderness, manuscripts incomplete; a dream unfulfilled and plants the seeds of bitterness.
About a month ago I wrote a vignette using the metaphor of gardening to show the unnamed character’s lack of discipline. The character finishes mowing the lawn, kills the engine and empties the catcher. Returning from the compost heap he notices all the other neglected gardening chores. Mowing the lawn is easy; other jobs require greater effort and time.
In my head the character’s name is Jack. Lacking discipline, he is the embodiment of the statement: jack-of-all-trades; master of none. I think the universe has a message for me and is intent on me reading it, even if it has to be emblazoned in forty-foot high flaming letters.
Discipline is a combination of:
- Focus – To have a focus means to know why you are writing. Revisit it from time to time, keeping the focus clear.
- Commitment – if you signed up for this gig, better make sure you’re wearing the Big Boy or Big Girl pants and rock up when you said you would. Every time.
- Repetition – Make it a part of your lifestyle, whether you write in the same place at the same time or write in allotted increments timetabled during the week.
- Goals – the short term and long term goals you set should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and given a Time Frame. Tick them off one by one and write new goals.
- Sacrifice –You are going to have to give things up. It’s going to hurt. But don’t be a selfish git. Be balanced.
Discipline is the wall of the city that requires maintenance. Lack of discipline in any aspect of our lives allows the walls to fall into disrepair and things do not work properly. Without discipline, the ideas and passion I have are no more than good intentions.
In the Old Testament, under the guidance of the prophet Nehemiah, the people of Jerusalem rebuilt the walls of the city with a sword in one hand and a tool in the other. Maintaining discipline as a writer means establishing the boundary markers from which you keep out the attacks of social media, doubt, fear, distraction, whatever it is that threatens to break down your discipline.
How much of a better writer (and I could extrapolate it further to include husband/father/ teacher/musician) would I be if I had a disciplined mindset?
What areas in your writing life would benefit from greater discipline?
Discipline and self-control is about honouring your commitment in turning up to the page repeatedly, maintaining your focus and striving to reach your goals.
Finish this sentence: “A writer with discipline is like…”