Tuesday 2 October 2012

Self-discipline – the number one requisite for the writer

What does a writer need more than anything else? Talent? Imagination? Time? Brain space? Faith? Hope? Probably all of these. But above all else the writer needs self-discipline. That is what creates the opportunity for these other important qualities to exist.


What is a talented writer anyway? I’ve certainly come across some writers who seem to have a gift. Writing comes easily and without making much effort at all they produce something beautiful. Where are these writers, though, when they run out of ideas or the publisher imposes a deadline that’s awkward? In fact successful writers often even have to be more self-disciplined: it’s no longer a matter of fitting in a couple of hours after work. The only opportunity to write may come on a crowded train or in an unfamiliar hotel bedroom after a day of publicity events.


As time goes by we use up all of our good ideas and in fact some that seemed good actually don’t translate into a story that works. We have to force the imagination. It may seem a step backwards but trying a few creative writing exercises can help here. Writers, anyway, need time out. Time when they switch off from the constant thought about their work. It takes some self-discipline to create that. It feels and looks bizarre – just doing nothing. That then has to be combined with the other self-discipline of sitting down with the note pad or at the keyboard, even when you think you have nothing to say. Faith comes in here a little: the more often you do that the easier it gets. You know you will be able to write something.  I’ve actually noticed I often write better when I’ve felt less comfortable with it.


You can always make / find time. While the baby’s asleep. In your lunch break. After the children have gone to bed. Successful writers do. Often, once people become “full-time” writers, they actually don’t spend any more time writing than they did when they were fitting it around other things. The experience of writing may be more enjoyable, and possibly the quality is better but time isn’t the only factor there. They may well be doing other “writerly” things with the rest of their day.
The trick is not to expect too much of yourself. Don’t say you will write for an hour a day because if you’ve only got ten minutes, you won’t attempt to write. Chances are, if you try for ten minutes a day, you’ll more often than spend much longer at your desk.
Did you know that it is widely believed that you need 10,000 hours at your craft before you are ready for the public?

Brain space?

It isn’t just a question of time, though, is it? If you’ve had a fraught day, it’s hard to get into the right frame of mind to write. It is for that reason my first activity of the day is always my writing. I then feel free to spend as long as is needed on anything else. I know I am lucky: even though I am not a full-time writer, my day job is very much about my writing and if my line-manager walked into my office right now, he would have no problem with the fact that I am writing this on my work computer in my employer’s time.
It wasn’t always thus. I did my Masters in Writing for Children whilst keeping up with my own writing, entering every competition going (I don’t do that now – I’m much more selective) and being Head of Modern languages at a challenging school in Basingstoke. I worked very late in the evening, weekends and school holidays. Oh, and my own children were teenagers at the time and you know what that means.  
You have to form an hiatus between your normal concerns and what your writing needs. Tea or mediation might work. Put all of your concerns about the rest of your life on hold – write a list, maybe – if it’s on the list it is going to be dealt with – or try worry dolls. Tell the dog. Whatever works for you. Then get writing.
A colleague of mine swears by changing space. Leave the office and go home. Move to another room. Have a different desk for writing from the one where you pay household bills. I’ve tried that too – it really does work. 

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