Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Discipline in writing

I've seen blogs and essays by several published authors that denounce the idea of "writer's block." It's a fallacy, they say, because if you can't write, you sit down and do it anyway. You'll write crap, but you keep doing it until suddenly you aren't writing crap anymore. It's discipline, and not ideas, that make a successful writer. And in my (admittedly unpublished) experience, that's certainly true. And I know not because I'm so disciplined, but rather because I'm not.

When I write on a daily basis, it's easier to do. The thoughts come out faster, the sentences will pop into my mind fully formed, and I won't have to spend thirty minutes browsing through the Word thesaurus function to find the word I'm looking for. But when I don't write on a daily basis, I open the document and stare at the screen. Then I re-read what I've already written, and stare some more. I'll try to write during this process, but I'll usually get about halfway through a sentence before I realize that it isn't what I want and erase it. Then, finally, usually after about 3 hours, the words finally start coming ... but they're rarely worth the wait.

Most of you know that Brant's been helping me on my discipline problem by accepting and editing a small selection of new writing every day. So far, it's working very well. Yes, there are days when I still get frustrated, and days when just opening the Word document for my first chapter depresses me. But there are also days now when I can't wait to get home and write, when the words seem to fly from my fingertips, and when I re-read my recently written words and think, "Wow, that's good." (That feeling rarely lasts past a second re-read, but it does keep me going through some of the harder days.)

So, if any aspiring writers happen to read this post, let my personal experience be a guide. I've tried both the disciplined and the undisciplined approach, and the disciplined approach is far more helpful. Daily writing keeps those mental muscles in good condition, and everything just comes easier. Find a system that works for you - I can't acheive the 1000 words/day limit that many professional writers set for themselves, but I can write 250 words/day. And I can write that most days even when I'm tired after work, after the gym, after having experiment after experiment fail .... Well, you get the point. Consistently writing 250 words/day is better for me than trying and failing to write 1000 words/day.

And on a random note - I do think the thesaurus is God's gift to writers. If you can't think of the right word, you find one that's close, and then browse around in Word thesaurus until it either jogs your memory or inspires a new phrasing that doesn't need the original word you were searching for. Thank you, Bill Gates.


  1. I'm glad I've been able to help you some. Certainly you have helped me improve as a writer.

    With regards to Theasaurus, check out I discovered it a couple of days ago and it is rapidly replacing MS Word's tool as my thesaurus of choice.

  2. I am quite glad that you seemed to have found your niche in your daily writing. I am still looking for mine. I have never been one for constant deadlines, like the 1000 words a day stuff that writers tout. I like deadlines only when they come and, more importantly, go.

    I believe in writer's block, and I also believe I have one that only sets in when I focus on typing out my words. If I try to sit and write a certain number of words per day, I never get anywhere near them, because I am too worried about the amount I have written.

    I have read that a lot of writers are more creative away from the typewriter and in front of it. I wrote my whole first chapter while listening/watching my favorite television show (MST3K), and my second I dictated to a recorder while soaking in a bubble bath. I set the less structured goal of finishing the chapter. This is a deadline that can actually be made and finished, instead of the daily quota route. But, it only works for people like me who sometimes get the irrational fear that the invisible boogy man is a critic just over my left shoulder.

    Shhh. I hear him coming towards the computer now...