Instead of discipline, try not writing (but this time on purpose)

The usual rot of being more disciplined and blocking out time for writing is a bit like telling people all they need to do is eat less and exercise more to lose weight. If you want to write you have to want to write but that’s easy to say discipline doesn’t work without giving an alternative.

 

And sure, ideally you’ll work hard on the rewrite, cutting out all the dead weight and reworking it so that it’s the story you want, but with word processors it’s too easy for first drafts to become final drafts just by cleaning up what exists on the page and not by rewriting the story.

So yes, it is important to get your butt in the chair and write, writing is a craft that takes time to develop. Learning how to take an idea from the vague idea of a good idea to a beginning, through the murky middle and then to the ending is something that writers need to do over and over again, not because they have to, but because they want to.

I’ve been arguing this all week. If all it takes is discipline to write, writer’s block wouldn’t exist, but it does, so it doesn’t. When people want to do something, it’s hard to stop them and when they don’t, it’s harder to force them.

1500 words a day is 1.5% of your novel. 3000 words is 3%. Every day spent churning out empty words will make it harder to go back and cut. It takes time to organize your thoughts and make pathways from the ideas in your head to the book on the page. Before I joined a critique group, I wanted to write all the time. The more I learned about the craft of writing, the less I wanted to do it. It became something I dreaded.

But it is possible to turn things around. I’d recommend going the other way. If you want to write but can’t, don’t force yourself, forbid yourself to write for a month. Not a sentence or a paragraph on the piece, but take notes whenever an idea comes to you. Spend the time thinking about the actual path you want the story to go, or big scenes that you think need to be there or cool twists that you want to include. Have it mull over in the back of your head as you’re doing other things. Let your subconscious go nuts with the connections that you want to make.

I’d recommend going the other way. If you want to write but can’t, don’t force yourself, forbid yourself to write for a month. Not a sentence or a paragraph on the piece, but take notes whenever an idea comes to you. Spend the time thinking about the actual path you want the story to go, or big scenes that you think need to be there or cool twists that you want to include. Have it mull over in the back of your head as you’re doing other things. Let your subconscious go nuts with the connections that you want to make.

Then write. But only in 45-minute bursts. When you sit down, think about what each scene is going to accomplish and then write it out. Don’t go over the time limit. When the buzzer goes, stop writing. As the day go by and you have more and more to say, give yourself an increase of time, but only write in 45-minute blocks.

Repeat until the story is out. The world doesn’t need more first drafts that were churned out because the writer had to, not because they want to. I’ve seen too many writers write a book, spend some time trying to market it and then self-publish it out of frustration. It leads to writers quitting because they tried to write and it didn’t work after only writing one or two books that they self-published and had it drop without a sound into the sea of other similar books.

Life is too short to force yourself to do something that ultimately even with the best of intentions remains just a hobby.

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