On Discipline (or Lack Thereof)

Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Every weeknight for the past three months, at precisely 9:00pm, a notification pops up on my phone. “Write,” it says. And almost every night, I ignore it. Back in the spring, I noticed that I was hardly writing and decided I needed a gentle prod to get back into the habit. So, I set a daily alarm to remind myself to write before going to bed. It didn’t work exactly as planned. I found excuses every time the alarm would buzz. Between quiet nights watching Netflix on the couch with my wife, social gatherings and travel, I managed to ignore the tiny digital voice that called me to write at 9:00pm sharp Monday through Friday. In fact, I became so adept at avoidance that I stopped noticing my screen illuminating each night.

Until last week, when over dinner the conversation turned to creative endeavors. It came up that I was a writer with a couple of published short stories under my belt. Someone asked, “What is your discipline for writing?” And I had to admit that I had none.

Jack London was one of the most prolific writers of the turn of the (last) century. Between 1900 and 1916, we wrote and published over 50 novels and works of nonfiction, in addition to hundreds of short stories and dozens of articles. He was successful because he had an ironclad discipline. No matter where he was or what he was doing — running his farm, building a sailboat or serving as a war correspondent — he always pushed himself to write at least 1,000 words a day. That’s nearly 6 million words over 16 years. You can see the same strategy being put to use by the most successful modern writers. Stephen King holds himself to 2,000 words a day — and doesn’t count adverbs.

Like an athlete training for a marathon or an actor preparing for a show, writers need to practice to be any good. You have to put in your time at the keyboard. Discipline is required.

Not long after that conversation, I felt a buzz in my pocket. It was my faithful reminder to drop what I’m doing and write. I knew I needed to shape up if I was expecting to continue calling myself a writer. I don’t think I’m quite ready to impose a daily word count. I’m starting with this blog; my first in over a month.

If I follow my new discipline, a blog will turn into a page of fiction, which will grow into a short story, which may give rise to a novel — a novel I can see through to completion only if I am dedicated to this proposition that a writer writes every day, no matter what.

I am an undisciplined artist, which is great if I only want to write as a side hobby. If I want to be a writer and build a career, I need more. I need to establish a discipline. Starting now.

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Jonny Eberle is a writer and serial procrastinator who likes to share his thoughts here and on Twitter. His newest short story, Inheritance, was published by Creative Colloquy in June. If you see him after 9:00pm on a weeknight, yell at him and tell him to go home and write.

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