Okay, it’s an old topic, I know, but discipline is so vital to your writing success. And if I’ve learned anything about discipline over the years, it’s that to be disciplined in any area of life, you need good discipline in all areas of life.
There’s nothing that bleeds from one area of life into others faster than lack of discipline. If you want to succeed at your work as a writer, you have to dedicate time to it regularly. Whether it’s an hour a day, fifteen minutes a day or five hours a day, you have to set aside time and do the writing. If you miss a day, it’s easier to miss another day and so on. If you’re only going to write five days a week, okay, fine, if that works for you. But don’t take off an extra day. It’ll be that much harder to get back to your regular schedule after.
When you diet, you can’t have a cheat day. One cheat can blow the whole week’s diet. When I lost 66 pounds in ten months on Weight Watchers in 2003, I didn’t have cheat days. I couldn’t. I counted calories every day and if I wanted a special treat, I just had to compensate with low calorie foods for the other meals that day or the next two days, period. Cheat days just made it harder to get back into the discipline, and, early on, I discovered without that discipline, my diet wouldn’t succeed.
For me, this is true in other areas of life.
The times I’ve been successful with exercise have been times when I’ve made it routine. Four to five days a week, forty-five minutes to an hour every day, period. No excuses. Once I start skipping days, pretty soon I just stop exercising. It’s happened time and time again. I find a similar thing with writing. One reason blogging helps me so much is that I am forcing myself to make content daily. I am doing my warm ups for other writing, in essence. I blog twice a week at least for my blog, but then I do guest posts for other sites on other days. Sometimes I blog in advance and save them up (Saturday I wrote my Valentines Day post), but by blogging almost every day (I skipped Friday for example), I get my writing chops working automatically and it’s easier to do other writing I need to do for the day. Similar perhaps to warming up before a jog or a game.
I do the same thing with my reading time for SFFWRTCHT, dividing a book into daily goals by page count to make sure I get the books read. Sometimes I fail because I often have more than one book to read at a time. And some books are longer than others. But I still push myself to meet the goal, and most weeks I succeed. It’s why I’ve read so many books in the past year, per my 2011 reading post.
When it comes to writing, I have to set clear goals. Without goals my discipline waivers. For me it’s a word count of 1200-3000 words a day, when I’m working on other jobs and 3-5000 words a day when I’m not. I also set goals to do a certain number of scenes or a chapter each day. Sticking to it, the work gets done. Not sticking to it, and pretty soon I’ve gone weeks with no output.
It’s ironic that the fun part of writing isn’t the task of putting words to paper. Editing and polishing is a lot more fun for me, but the really joyful part is the daydreaming when I think up ideas. I could sit and do that all day, couldn’t you? But making those daydreams work on the page is tough sometimes. Yet in 2008 I decided to write a novel and by the end of 2009 I’d written two. By the end of 2011, I had my first published novel and I already know that by the end of 2012 I’ll have two more published. Imagine what will come in 2013 if I keep working?
Right now I have two half manuscripts to complete and one that is ready for second draft. If I get all of those done this year, and that’s a goal, I will have three more books to sell for 2013 but in addition, I need to write the finale to my Davi Rhii saga which is due to be published in 2013. So I could end up with as many as four books coming out in 2013. That would be doubling my publication output every year. Pretty cool, huh? Even if it doesn’t happen, what a worthy goal, right?
In 2012 I have Davi Rhii book 2, The Returning, coming out, along with 102 More Dinosaur Jokes For Kids, the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales 6, which I edited for Flying Pen Press, and the episodic novel based on a flash fiction series The North Star. I have stories coming out in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Space Battles and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation.
None of this would be possible without the discipline of regularly sitting down to write.
Am I rich yet? No. But in 2010 and 2011 I spent more on writing than I made. In 2012, I have already made 50% of what I spent on writing last year and I still have a bunch of stuff to come out and advances, etc. to receive with only a month gone in the year. That’s what I call progress, the good kind. It can only get better.
This year I am disciplining myself to eat better regularly and exercise at least four days a week. I am getting a used elliptical machine to make sure I have no excuse to not do it. It’ll be staring me in the face and with my e-reader, I can read while I do it. I am reorganizing my grocery shopping to plan healthier meals. Cutting out some of my unhealthy snacking and replacing it with healthier choices. All of this discipline will help me keep discipline high in my writing and other areas of my life. I’m sure my reading goals will be easier met, too. And I’ll bet I can meet that 2013 goal.
So when you think about your writing, ask yourself about your discipline. How does your discipline or lack of it contribute to your writing success? In what ways can you do better? In what ways are you already doing well? Where have you made progress? Where does progress need to occur? Adjust your goals and discipline accordingly. Don’t forget to look at other areas of your life.
I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t started disciplining myself, but I know I can do better. What about you? How’s your discipline? For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.