Discipline? We don’t need no stinkin’ discipline.

A lot of you had some very fine responses to my inquiry over the weekend about what you considered to be the most difficult part of writing — I’m still taking notes…. I noticed that a large percentage chimed in on the “apply butt to chair” obstacle. Next point of curiousity — do you have any tricks to help you in this regard? (e.g. a reward system like I sometimes use — if you only read these next fifty query letters, Jenn, *then* you can have a nip of that fine Scotch waiting up on the shelf…) What motivates you most? What intimidates you most (or what will you use as the easiest off-ramp on the writing highway)? And the other side of the coin (it’s not just the discipline, right?) — where do you find the time in your busy life to squeeze the words out, or to make writing a priority? Are there tricks to that too?

(Yeah, curiousity….it’s what makes this biz — could it *really* be as good as this query suggests — well, maybe I’ll just ask for fifty pages…. Just call me Alice.)

19 responses to “Discipline? We don’t need no stinkin’ discipline.

  1. Writing is like exercising. I hate the anticipation and I always feel really good after I’ve done it. Trying to remember how cheerful I’ll be when the butt has been put into the chair and the typing has been done is one of the things I do to try to get myself to write.
    That is, of course, after the kitty litter’s been changed, the kitchen’s been cleaned, the dog’s been fed, and I’ve taken the vacuum out before remembering that at 6am there are other people still sleeping in the house and that I really shouldn’t be vacuuming. That’s my big off-ramp: housecleaning. It’s amazing the things I’ll do to avoid writing, particularly when I consider how much more I like writing than cleaning the house. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Once I’m /in/ the chair, I–well. My daily goal is 1000 words. Usually I write more than that, once I’m sitting down, but that’s the goal, and when it’s really rough, I find myself saying, “Okay, you can do 500. It’s only another 137 words to 500.” And then I end up with 553, and I say, “Well, ok, 750, because that’s only another 197 words and anybody can write 197 words. You can be at least as good as anybody, right?” And then generally it’s suddenly at 994 words and I’m in the middle of a sentence and then voila, it’s 1238 words and I can be done if I want to be.
    (Of course, this turns into “Well, I wrote 1200 words on that project, so if I write another 800 words on this one, that’ll be 2K for the day, oop, look, that was 1800 words, and another 300 will finish the chapter PLEASE GOD LET IT FINISH THE CHAPTER oh look it did and I managed to write 3800 words today, go me!” That, unfortunately, is not something my day job appreciates me doing.)
    Ideally I get up early to write, because it’s nice and quiet and there’s nobody to disturb me or turn on the tv or anything. In reality, I … actually, if I get to bed at a semi-decent hour, that works pretty well. (Not /this/ week, mind you, but generally.) I figure that if I want to be an author when I grow up, I better be willing to make time in my schedule on a pretty much daily basis in order to, you know. *Write*. And it’s not really that *hard*; I have the time (8 hours of work, no commute, 2ish hours at the gym (when I’m being good), an hour of meal-times, that’s 11 hours, I’m theoretically up for 16; I *really* should be able to find an hour out of those remaining 5 to write!). It’s getting my butt into the chair.
    Also, writing about writing is a swell way to procrastinate. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m going to go do the day job now so I can get some of the writing I didn’t do yesterday done this afternoon. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. *guilty blush*
    Off-ramps? Um, howzabout any other distraction on the computer…email, LJ, playing with Photoshop, you name it. They’re just RIGHT THERE. (This is why the keyboard for my PDA is such a happy thing: no room or processing power for all those distractions. Mind you, it also can’t keep up with my typing, but it’s a pretty fair tradeoff.)
    As for motivation, if I ever find anything other than “looming deadline that induces flying purple panic and requires cramming writing into every possible minute for a week or two, thus almost certainly making me physically ill,” I will be a very happy woman.
    One thing writing to spec has taught me: My self-assessment that I like to write, but don’t want to do it full time? Right on the money. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Re: *guilty blush*
      *grin* I do my writing, or the bulk of it, on a laptop that has pretty much nothing but Word installed, and which has no net connection. That’s very helpful. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. If I had discipline I’d be cranking on the revisions to chapter 16, not answering this question…
    (in my defense, editor B just called with a question about a different project; totally blew my concentration to hell)
    I work best under deadline. I’m a very structured person, and really need that framework of A is due now, and B is due then, and C will be due… And it all gets done. So the carrot/reward for me is the satisfaction of hitting the date. The stick is the utter and total sense of guilt I feel if I blow a deadline. God, I’m such a failure!
    Oh, okay, yeah, there are other treats in my arsenal, too. I purged all games off my computers, but there’s still that deadly time-sink known as the internet. And oh, my most deadly off-ramp is IM. Hey, I’m talking to someone about what I’m working on! Talking to another writer, even! That’s work too, right? I should purge that program from my computers entirely, too. Except then I’d be bored, and that’s even more dangerous.
    As for my busy life… *rueful laughter* I prefer it busy, actually. Goes back to that works-well-under-deadlines thing. But I’ve discovered that for writing, busy is good, multitasking not so good. So now I multitask cooking dinner and making my endless Virgoean lists, ripping cd’s and playing with the cat and talking on the phone… but when I’m writing I’m writing.
    Except when I’m chatting on IM. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. In college, I had a reward system of 1 page of the newest Foxtrot or Calvin & Hobbes book per page written on term papers and essays. Writing for myself generally just requires that I start removing the obstacles I place in my path.

  5. Mostly, my guilt gorilla takes care of the butt in chair for me.
    Even when I don’t want him to. *g*

  6. I don’t need tricks any more, because in my head this is What I Do. Sometimes I have a hard time making my brain work on one project instead of another, but mostly I speak very sternly to me, and then I listen.
    At first, though, I was newly married, had a recent back injury, had just started nuclear physics grad school, and was commuting an hour each way to school. And my first novel showed up and started putting on airs, and I decided that I did *not* want to be one of those early-twenty-something girls who’s on about how she’s working on a novel and then you check back with her at 40 and she’s still working on the same novel. (Some of those, apparently, turned out quite well. But still.) So I just set it up with my husband that I would tell him what I had done at the end of each day before we went to bed. It could be, “I wrote two chapters,” or it could be, “I figured out the politics of the world,” but I had to tell him what I’d done towards the novel that day. If I forgot, he would ask. And he was not allowed to judge what I said, whether it was not enough or too much or a good idea or one that would get thrown out in revisions. (So some people are not a good novel-buddy for this exercise!) But I had to make a progress report. After that it got automatic.
    I have an online journal now, but I didn’t then, and frankly, posting progress reports on my journal wouldn’t work for me. With my spousal unit, I had enough trust to be able to do it and not fuss about whether he was going to be judgmental or make suggestions or anything like that. Whereas the internet is full of random strangers, who pop by and start posting comments on your journal without warning….

  7. I’ve not been doing well on this aspect of my writing of late. (See: rejection as hardest part of wanting to grow up to be a writer) That said, it feels really *really* good to finish a book. Amazingly good. Walk around smiling like an idiot all day good. So that’s motivation.
    And the guilt, eventually, just gets to be too much to bear if I *don’t* write. I don’t have a spouse who’s quite as supportive as mrissa’s (can he be cloned? :), but at least he listens.
    Deadlines are good, too, but ultimately it comes down to, if I let the suck weasels keep me down and I don’t put my butt back in the chair and write, then they win, and I’ll never make my goal of being published. I’ll have failed.
    And I really hate failing.

  8. I have no discipline at all. What I do have is learned behavior and that works when I do it. When I want to write, I put on my head phones, put my MP3 player on random, or a CD on repeat, and that’s what I do. When I was at clarion I taught myself that I could go to the coffee shop, sit down, and just *write*, and sure enough, I could. And it worked while I was in DC and could pack up and go to a coffee shop, but since I came home there are few coffee shops and more tragically, my laptop died, and since then it has been hell getting myself to buckle down and do my work. I’m back on my late night plan though–I write best between midnight and 3 am. WHich is only possible because I’m lazy and unemployed. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Strategies that I have tried.
    …usually amount to doing a little bit every day, to get into the routine. Like 250 words a day. Just a page. That’s it. I get the page, it’s all good. I get more than the page, then Whoo!
    Lately though since I spend about 11 hours a day away from home on a useable computer of any kind, I now have a thick spiral bound notebook that I carry in my purse. I am sure my chiropractor will comment on the subluxation of the week, as I also carry at least one paperback, my cell phone, and enough change in a bag to beat someone to death with – but I spend it on jellybeans, honest. Anyway. I lug this thing to work, and in the dead time first thing in the morning…
    I write three pages longhand, at minimum. Yes, I got it from the Artist’s Way. but in the midst of my job is boring blah blah and I wish I could go somewhere warm early next year to escape the howling winter, I write scenes from stories, or notes about stories, or work out solutions to problems in stories.
    and then I go home and transcribe them into the computer. I haven’t produced less than 500 words of fiction using this method so far… as long as I actually wrote fiction that day. A lot of days I’m writing notes and thrashing the story out on paper, where some order is imposed upon it.

    • Re: Strategies that I have tried.
      Ooh, the small goal thing: I don’t do it myself, consciously (I do write *something* fictional every day), but one of my friends set himself a 10 word goal for every single day. Because if it was even 100 words, he could come up with days when he wouldn’t do it, but who can’t write *ten words* in a day, for heaven’s sake? So even days when his relatives were visiting or he had a million things to do at work or the cat was sick, he could keep up his pattern of always writing at least a tiny bit, and often it turned into more.

      • Re: Strategies that I have tried.
        When I’m in creation mode, I go for minimum 250 words a day. I’ve found that’s what I can get done even on a really bad rotten, etc day. It may be total dreck (and often is) but the words will appear on the screen.
        Sometimes even in a known human language. *grin*

      • Re: Strategies that I have tried.
        For a while I had a one sentence a day goal. It wasn’t very impressive, but it was much better than the no sentence days that preceded it.

  10. Deliberately thinking about the writing when not writing to keep it on the front burner. As someone else said about multitasking, do only writing when writing. Not cooking (can we say pan boiled dry twice?), not AIM chatting or IMing. No phone calls. No person sitting at other computer in room possibly talking to me.
    Esp. the latter. I used to do really well with writing late at night, but the spouse whines when I come to bed with really cold feet (hazard of the area) or keep him up late rattling my keyboard. For a while I did well writing early, but the time period before I have to do getting-the-spouse-off-to-work things is too short.
    I think tricks only work for a little while. Thing is, I know perfectly well I’m the one holding the carrot. I just have to be stubborn about the right things, is all. The best thing is to like what I’m writing.
    The thing I start doing instead the absolute most? After I’ve opened the program and the file(s) and all? ::blush::
    I rip my fingernails off. It’s horrible how fascinating any dirt under them becomes when I’m trying to write and not quite there.
    Was that any kind of answer? ::gives up:: ๐Ÿ˜€

  11. The way to do it is…to do it. Deadlines help to keep me honest and routine helps; it’s easier to sit down and keep going when I haven’t given myself a chance to get out of the groove. But in the end, I think it _is_ just the discipline. “If you want to write, Hannah, you’re going to have to write. So get to it.”
    I guess I do have one major carrot, and that’s a healthy dose of bravado. I believe that, push to shove, I can do this writing thing. I believe that, if I can keep at it long enough and study it with enough intensity, I will get better. Never good enough. But better. If I don’t…I won’t.
    I want to get better. So I sit down and write. Not as much as I should, but more than I used to, and as of late I think I’m on the job more days than I’m not. The rest of those days will come.
    I do better when I’m busy, oddly enough. Too much time off gives me problems — in writing, in homework, in everything. I think, “Oh, I’ve got all day! I can do that later.” And then I don’t. If I’m busy (not too busy, of course, but that in-between sort of busy), I think, “If I want to get this done, I’m going to have to do it now.” And then I do.
    I think it is just discipline. I really do. Which isn’t to say I’m not all for any tricks to help the discipline be there. I wish they worked for me — I’d love to write for ice cream! At the same time, though, I’m glad I think it comes down to “if you want to do something…do it.” Because that I can understand. That I can do. I can look at the amount of time I spend playing video games, say, and think, “Hrm. Why didn’t you use that time for writing?” and then, next time I go play, stop after half an hour and go write instead. That’s easy! Or not easy, but simple.
    I like simple.

  12. Toby Buckell wrote and article on this for the Speculations newsletter called “Putting in the Time” (alas does not appear to be published online anywhere) that gave some good advice – people talk about this subject (and other aspects of being a neopro) here.
    One thing he mentions is turn off the TV – get rid of it if possible. I’ve found this immensely helpful for keeping my mind on writing and less on “gee I just worked all day and I should relax for just a bit longer)
    Also, staying offline. My chatty friends can be a huge distraction.
    I’m also trying to set up a dedicated writing area in my bedroom to give me a place just to focus on writing.

  13. eep, taking this one question at a time..
    do you have any tricks to help you in this regard?
    Guilt is a good one. Guilt gets me to put my butt in the chair. Also getting out of the house. i do my best writing at coffee shops or in B&N or whatever bookstore has tables and won’t bother you if you sit there for hours. And sometimes it’s just a matter of: I’ve played tetris for an hour, read all the blogs on the internet, read all my email, there is no one in the chat room…. okay, I will write. And then the next day it’s easier to just write.
    What motivates you most?
    Love and adoration. Knowing that I can do it. Knowing that people like what i write. Knowing that *I* like what I write most of the time. A desire to be nothing but a writer. not a writer and (add whatever here). Want to do away with the and.
    What intimidates you most (or what will you use as the easiest off-ramp on the writing highway)?
    The thought of being told I am not good enough. but most days I can smush that fear and put it in the bottom drawer where it belongs.
    where do you find the time in your busy life to squeeze the words out, or to make writing a priority? Are there tricks to that too?
    The trickiest trick of all: quit your job and run away from home. That’s basically what i did. I needed to be a writer and I needed to get away from New York so I quit my job, packed up my stuff, and left. Then I formulated a plan where i could travel and live off of other people for a while so i could write. I have not much else to do in my day but that.
    Sure, there are other things I do. Slush reading, making web pages, writing other things (yuck), researching. But I basically make writing #1 on my priority list. And I think that’s key. Figure out exactly where on your priority list writing is and then keep it firmly there. If I have to schedule my day so I have a specific time to write, i do that. But most days the schedule is (supposed to be): Write. once I have reached # of words, do everything else.
    I tell my students (in my novel writing class) that they have to make a schedule and set aside a specific time. treat writing like a job. Have a room where you can shut the door. leave the house. Anything to make that time solidly “writing time”.

  14. I am an extremely undisciplined person, I’m untidy, I hate cleaning, I’m inherently lazy. I can think of 8 million things to be doing aside from what I know I should be doing. This tends to carry over into the things that I presumably do to earn money, as well as those things that I do which don’t earn me money but which require effort, like gardening and writing.
    They’re a lot the same, for me. I love my garden. I love having a garden. I love being out in my garden. But when I haven’t felt like getting up early enough to go out and spend an hour weeding before it hits 100 F, and then the weeds start to grow and I start to feel guilty, so I start avoiding the scene of my failure as a gardener and the next thing you know, the tomatoes are squooshing on the ground, the nightshade is overtaking the pumpkins, the strawberries have disappeared entirely and no one even knows that there ever were onions in there under all that riot of green. It’s a vicious circle- something slips a little, and I start to feel guilty about it. I avoid the thing that makes me feel guilty, and it slips further, so I feel guiltier… lather, rise, repeat.
    Writing’s a lot the same. NaNoWriMo was actually a brilliant motivator last year despite coming down with strep throat, an ear infection, a sinus infection, very bad conjunctivitis (that was a doozy), and an upper respiratory infection all at the same time near the end of November. I signed up again this year and got more than 6,000 words into it when I discovered that I hated my story, the whole thing was pointless, and I had things I really needed to be doing more than that (and I really did), and pretty soon there goes the whole guilt-avoidance cycle. I really need to work on that. On the plus side, though, I made more money at the craft fairs this year than I did last year, since I was devoting more time to that. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I have no answers, only questions! Deadlines really do help me, though. Without a deadline, I lack motivation. In college I did all my best writing under pressure with deadlines looming and impossible goals to meet. (An entire semester’s worth of anthropology papers and assignments completed in only 3 weeks, with an A grade!) It sucked, though, don’t get me wrong- spending 12 hours a day on campus Every Single Day was not any fun at all. Those looming deadlines were the only things that motivated me, though– I seem to only work in panic mode. Which is probably why NaNo suited me so well last year. This year, my November panic-mode working was knitting 14 scarves in 8 days and things of that ilk. Oh, well.
    Now that I think about it, my entire life is like that. The house can go to complete chaos over the course of a month, and then suddenly people are coming over to visit and after proper application of some coffee I’ll sweep, vaccuum, do dishes, do laundry, put things away, scrub floors, clean toilets and tubs and sinks… all before breakfast. ZOOM! It’s hopeless. I have a switch in my head with two positions: off, and full-throttle. Help!
    Deadlines. Deadlines are my answer.

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