Mmm, mmm. Discipline. Tough, gritty, and guaranteed to give you heartburn. Still, it is the fiber of the writing diet, and we all know we need more fiber. I’ve come to a grudging respect, and even a moderate craving for discipline – and it was a long evolution. In my youth, I went into stories hot, like an invading army. I usually had no idea what the outcome would be, where I was going, or whether I would get there. All that conventional wisdom about making an outline, writing every day to build creative muscle, being alert to grammar and style, that wasn’t for me. I was an ARTIST. I couldn’t be bothered with discipline.
Fast forward 20 years or so. I have learned the value of treating my writing as the craft it is. Like any specialized skill, it requires practice to develop and maintain proficiency. That means daily practice, by the way, just like those piano lessons your Ma made you take when you were a kid. And look, now you can play Claire de Lune without disgrace! The daily commitment has another benefit; it primes the pump and gets those ideas and words flowing. For me, that cuts down on the amount of time I spend sitting, staring at the blank screen, chanting under my breath, “Come on, come on!” After all, as writers we do want to produce some finished pieces, right? I mean, I’m not just goofing off; I have goals.
Goals. And timelines by which they should be met. Of course it’s all a bit pie-in-the-sky, but it gives me a target to shoot at instead of just blamming away all over the place. Discipline, again, puts its heavy hand upon my shoulder and squashes my butt down into the chair. Write! You have a goal to meet! This, while slightly draconian, is a good thing.
The craftsmanship of proper grammar and style, nicely paced plot, strong characters, rich settings, and delicious language is the spice of discipline. This is where it all comes together. Don’t be sloppy, don’t be lazy, tighten it up, and for God’s sake watch the exposition! Get that adverb out of there! Suck in your gut and drop that passive voice! And please, control your use of exclamation points.
Yes, discipline is a writer’s friend. Pack away your bohemian disregard for structure and rules. You’re in the literary army now.