Working in the Word Mines – Discipline
Being privileged to work hard for long hours at something you think is worth doing is the best kind of play. – Robert Heinlein
If writing were an old school martial arts movie, the secret technique handed down by the grizzled old master just before the big fight would be called Buttocks Grip Chair. That’s because the single hardest part about being a writer is the actual work of sitting down and wrestling the keyboard for hours on end. It’s the best part, too, don’t get me wrong, but the discipline required to get it done day after day is hard to come by. Like a muscle, your willpower will get stronger the more you use it, but in the meantime, here are some things you can do to keep your head down and fingers moving.
Don’t Wait for Inspiration
If you want to get serious about writing, you can’t wait to be in the mood or hold off until that moment when inspiration strikes. The mood is whatever you feel when it’s time to write, and the inspiration is ‘my story isn’t finished yet’. You can write without the perfect conditions, and you’ll be surprised how similar your output is. Just start working.
Defend Your Time
It’s hard to put the effort into starting a writing session if you know that you’re going to be interrupted anyway. It takes a good twenty minutes for me to get into the flow, and each interruption starts that timer over again. It’s a lot easier to start writing at a time when you know you can be productive.
Have a Quota
So you started. Good job. And then you wrote for a few minutes until you got stuck, and figured you’d pick it up tomorrow because, hey, you did your session for today. That’s not good enough. Give yourself a quota and stick to it. I use 2000 words, but pick anything that seems like a good day to you. If you get stuck, feel free to walk around and talk to yourself, just be aware that you have to come back and finish before the session is over.
Have a Deadline
Even better than a quota is a deadline. Make one up if you have to, and tell people about it. You’re a lot more likely to put the work in if you know how much time you have left.
I like hot mugs of something tasty to drink. So, now I have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate whenever I sit down to write. Any small pleasure will do, but I find that making it part of starting a session works better for me than having a reward afterwards. Try it a few times and you’ll find that it makes getting started a lot easier.
Care About the Work
It sounds silly. I mean of course you care, right? But admitting that you care about what you do, openly and without reservation, can be difficult. It makes you vulnerable to criticism and exposes the limits of your competence. You can no longer say that a piece is just something you’re fooling around with, or that it’s something you just dashed off. You have to make the commitment that everything you put your name on is the best you can do, and openly admit it.
This is the single most important factor in getting in front of the keyboard day after day. If this piece, this novel, this short story, really matters, then it won’t be about finding the time to sit down and put your hands on it, it’ll be about finding the time to take care of the other things in your life.
Besides the obvious benefit of spending more time writing, the payoff for investing yourself in your work, regardless of whether you write, build furniture, or make sushi, is that you will experience a deep and abiding satisfaction that can be found in few other ways.
Writing is hard work. My response to that? Big deal. So is everything else worth doing.
So do it already.