Raise your hand if you’ve ever been asked, “How do you write so much?” In the past, you may not have been able to come up with an answer that made sense. Here it is, for future reference: discipline. Lots and lots of discipline.
Discipline, as a writer, is the long-term version of focus. It’s about training yourself, over time, to prioritize your writing, work toward the goals you set and figure out what gets you sitting down to write on a consistent schedule. It’s something you have to learn and develop. Here are a few ways to start.
Establish your priorities
The confusing thing about the advice to “make writing a priority” is that, in reality, you can’t. You can’t always put writing on your own time before a job, or before your family, or before school, or before whatever else you have going on. Writing isn’t always consistent. So always trying to put it first ahead of everything else doesn’t really make sense. That’s because prioritizing isn’t exactly what many of us have always been told it is.
Prioritization isn’t necessarily always about putting one thing before everything else. In some cases, it’s about learning how to shift your priorities according to a preset schedule. (Some of you are now hyperventilating; breathe! It’s not that bad.) For example, every morning, the first two hours of my day are spent on me and my health – working out, journaling, eating breakfast, etc. At nine my shift focuses. Writing becomes my priority. During that time, I focus only on writing. That’s the only way it gets done. Otherwise I’d get too distracted by … you know. Everything else.
Schedule and follow through
Discipline and consistency go hand in hand. If you want to be a more disciplined writer, if you want to be able to count on yourself to sit down every day and write, you have to train yourself to do so on a regular basis. Routine is everything. It helps a lot of writers to create a writing schedule, complete with word count goals and time slots, at least in the beginning, to help them form a pre-planned outline of what they are going to write (or how much), and when.
But it’s not enough to sit down and create a nice, neat schedule on paper and tape it to your wall. You actually have to do it, consistently, over and over and over again. This is pretty much just a subtle way of drilling a very specific set of habits into your brain. I used to (sigh) have the luxury of waking up, grabbing coffee and writing as soon as I got up. I did that for a LONG time, because I pretty much ended up conditioning myself to automatically go from waking up to coffee to writing. That’s why not just creating schedules, but sticking to them, is so effective.
This is probably the toughest part of this whole discipline thing. You can set aside time for writing, and make it an important part of your intended daily or weekly schedule … but there’s only one thing that determines how long those things will last, and whether or not you continue trying at all: commitment. It’s not enough to just say you’re going to write a novel, for example. You actually have to make a promise that you’re going to do it … and then, slowly, but steadily, DO IT.
Do what you need to do to make that commitment stick. Make it public. Write it down. Promise yourself a reward. Whatever you think might be the kind of long-term motivation you’ll need to keep your goals at the front of your mind. This might take some time – what you thought might work, might not actually work. This is why developing discipline doesn’t happen in a day. Only you can figure out what it’s going to take to convince yourself keeping your commitment is worth the effort.
Having an end goal in mind is hard, because that’s where many writers settle for the vague, “I want to be published someday.” Don’t be afraid to be specific. Don’t be afraid to set schedules that make your friends roll your eyes. It’s all worth it – or it will be, once you realize you’re much closer to finishing that novel, or starting that blog, or getting that story published, than you ever thought possible.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.