Sunday, November 7, 2010

Discipline: Your Choice

Last week we dipped our toe into considering the role of Discipline in a writer's life. John Parsley shared with you from his experience as an editor with Little, Brown (one of the most selective publishing companies in New York) the stark reality of just how soon your writing's gotta grab an agent or editor's attention - on page one. Keeping their attention from start to finish takes excellent craftsmanship and an artistic touch of the pen, so to speak, that sets you apart from the pack.

If you've learned anything from the several best-selling or award-winning authors I've brought on to blogshop, their main message has been - becoming a good writer takes time, unrelenting dedication and persistence. None of which happens without some form of discipline. Whether you want to call it discipline or something else is up to you. But IT must be present in your writer's life if you want to enjoy any level of success. Think of the D word as your own daily practices that keep you on a good know, that one where you're creatively productive, mostly organized, punctual and content, no HAPPY with the direction you're headed! That sounds awesome, doesn't it? Yeah, I'll take more of that stuff!

Sounds ideal right? It is and it can be your reality, but it takes time and focus. Getting good at anything does.


Let's take a look at a more common scenario. After reading a few good 'how-to' articles about pitching an agent or writing a bullet proof synopsis you plunk down in front of your computer ready to set the literary world a'blaze with your bon mots and can-do attitude until...something happens. You get a phone call/email/text that brings some kind of negativity your way; you start doubting that this book thing is really going to take off, leaving you forever in a job you hate; the baby wakes up - great, there goes your writing time. Whoa! What happened to all that good mojo you started out with?

My dears, if you want success as a writer, as a human on this green earth, you must learn to productively deal with what life brings to your table. No excuses. Your actions determine your success - not your education, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic situation. How you were raised does not determine your success. What side of the tracks you grew up on does not determine your success. Your lack of emotional/financial/parental/spousal support does not determine your success.

You do. I believe in responsible free will. You have choice in this life and you make choices every day that either keep you from succeeding or move you toward success. Let's take that negative call/email/text you received. How did you deal with it? Did you let it derail you? Will we find you plopped in front of the T.V. with a bag of chips watching some mindless reality show? Or did you deal with it as productively as possible and move on to your more important task at hand? How about your own doubts about this writing gig and your current less-than-fabulous job situation? I know many of you would rather be writing than having to clock in full time to a job that isn't "you." What can I say about this? Until your writing pays the bills, you'll have to either continue to clock in to your job or find one that better suits you and your talents while you build your writing platform. And don't let self-doubt keep you from moving forward. If you're constantly striving to be a better writer, then you're succeeding in real time! Writing around your kids' nap times? Honey, this is the story of most my adult life! I understand totally how difficult it is to work around your children's schedules, whatever they are, but realize this - you don't get a do-over with your kids. Choose to be present and engaged in their lives. That may mean for now, you write at night or early in the morning before they wake up. Let that be your sacred writing time and let nothing get in the way of it.

What does choice have to do with Discipline? Everything! If you want success as a writer, you must choose writing over T.V.; choose reading over hanging out at the bar; workshopping over self-loathing; and connecting with other got-it-goin'-on writers over fretting about the economy. And yes you'll have to plan your life around this. Once you totally realize your actions determine your success, that you have a choice in most everything you do, you'll understand the value of your precious writer's time...and your life! Accountability is the foundation of Discipline.

Your Action: This is long winded, bear with me. We've all heard inspiring stories where the underdog overcomes great obstacles to become successful in their own way. I love these stories! It's what keeps me keeping on. Hearing these triumph over every obstacle stories reminds me there are no excuses in this life if you want something badly enough. I draw inspiration from my grandfather who grew up in a coal mining family in the North of England (Tow Law, Co. Durham, if you're interested) during the first half of the 20th century. Rather than let his socio-economic history determine his fate, he let his passion guide him toward a master's degree in philosophy and Doctor of Divinity. He enjoyed a long, fulfilling career as an Episcopalian minister and later Bishop in the United States. His story keeps me stretching myself, my ability every day.

How about you? What keeps you inspired? What no excuses story real or imagined keeps you moving forward?


  1. I find similar unflinching momentum from family. My mother who struggles with her own energy constantly reminds me we have within us free will to either serve with a purpose, or self serve. I choose the former.

  2. As always, a fabulous and inspiring post. Thank you, Lit Coach, for keeping our eyes on the prize, which is writing for writing sake... and hopefully a bonus of publishing and sharing our work with others. No excuses!

  3. Very nice perspective, Eric. Thanks for sharing.

    And Erin...yes, this is about writing for writing's sake. You got it. You do it because you love it, it drives you, you're in love with the process. If you can make a living with it, great! That should be the by-product of a successful writer's life. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Thanks Ms. Reel! Since I've finally decided on what novel to write (eight days into NaNoWriMo, how great is that) this tip really helps me. Thanks again!


  5. This is a great post- thanks for the reminder that we all need sometimes! The thing that drives me is that someday I may have an impact on someone's life. There have been so many books I read as a teen that influenced me, or encouraged me, and I want to have that same result with my books. But I also feel like, if I never get published, that's okay- I'll still write because I love it and I have all these stories I want to get out.

  6. Anon, keep us posted on your progress! Your my young writer, right?

    And thanks, Abby. Amazing what a story can do, not to mention the culminating elements that go into shaping that story.

  7. Yes, Ms. Reel, I'm "your young writer". :) I typically sign my reviews with Anon, so that's generally how you should be able to tell.

    Thank you!



Leave your thoughts! Feel free to share with us your success stories or tips.