Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Discipline is Freedom

by Janis Patterson

While this might sound like some a totalitarian mantra etched on the walls of some dictator's forced labor camp, it really isn't. It's a sign on the bulletin board next to my desk. And while I admit to sometimes being a minor-league martinet, I'm quite a ways away from full-blown dictator-dom.

Scary as it might sound, discipline really is freedom. I try to adhere to a reasonable writing schedule - a minimum of 1,000 words a day (a pathetically low number, I know) to be fulfilled at least 5 days a week. Most days and weeks I do more, sometimes much more, but that 1K/5day goal is my benchmark when I'm in writing mode. Editing, etc. is different.

Before I set up a minimum daily requirement, my writing suffered as I am lamentably frivolous and light-minded. The lures of lunch with friends, a night out with The Husband, some more remodeling of my office... any and all temptations that aren't writing, to say nothing of the boring necessities of life such as laundry, dusting, cooking, etc., would sing their siren song to me and my production would inevitably decline, sometimes sharply.

"I can write tonight," I would say, then trot off merrily for whatever. "I can catch up later." The only thing is, I didn't. Sometimes days or even weeks would go by with only a paltry few hundred words captured in pixels, and that just wouldn't do.

I am not by nature a disciplined person. I dally. I shilly-shally. I am frivolous and easily distracted. But - I knew something had to be done if I were to continue to regard myself as a professional novelist.

I don't know where the phrase 'Discipline is Freedom' came from. Maybe unearthed from some unconscious awareness of reading about some nasty time in human history - or maybe not. Maybe it was a gift from my abused muse. Whatever it was, it suddenly appeared in my mind one day and I knew it was true.

Now I work mightily to get at least my daily minimum done; usually it is much more, for once the pump is primed the words keep flowing, but even if they don't I have done my allotted ration. Once that is done, I can do whatever else calls to me with a light heart. I can go to lunch or shopping with a clear conscience, for the work has been done. I don't even feel resentful of the necessary housework any more - at least, not for interfering with my writing - because my book is progressing at a fairly stable pace.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and any system has to be flexible. There are emergencies and unforeseen circumstances that blow any schedule out of the water. Families have problems; mechanical things maniacally break - usually two or three in a clump. There are wrecks and injuries and illnesses; there are losses and the ones who remain must be comforted. There are also joys, such as a quick visit from a friend now living overseas, or the birth of a new baby in the family. That is called Life, and such events should always supersede rigid schedules. Writing is not and should not be the end-all and be-all; it is a job. An important and meaningful job, yes, but still a job. Life and family should always come first.

The trick is that once the breach in your schedule has happened and has passed, get back on the pony. Discipline yourself to begin once again your self-imposed schedule, then when your minimum - or beyond - is reached you can give yourself permission to go do other things and not feel guilty. Such freedom is the gift of discipline.

Discipline is indeed freedom.


Irene Bennett Brown said...

I don't set a daily count of words but I believe very much in keeping up the flow of a book. Fortunately, in and around those other responsibilities -- family -- life, I can hardly wait to get back to my characters and their story.

Bonnie Cehovet said...

I totally agree - we have to hold ourselves accountable. My issue is taking on too many projects at once. I have a hard time saying no when someone wants a review done, or I have an opportunity to place an article somewhere.

Jackie Houchin said...

What GREAT encouragement and advice, Marilyn!! I really do need to set up a schedule....later. (haha)

Seriously, I am a lot like you - plenty of other things that I HAVE to do, plenty others that I WANT to do, and days where I just want to mess around or READ, read, read. (That's why I do book reviewing, I think - legitimacy in sitting down to read.)

I will try. Yes I will!

BTW, I mentioned Make Mine Mystery in my blog post on The Writers In Residence today. Just a blurb, but well intended. Here's the link:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hemingway said that he never stopped writing at the end of a chapter. I think this is sound advice. Begin a new chapter and then stop. You get more done. As to # of words, sometimes more for me and sometimes less. It depends on a lot of factors. But if I start early in the morning, I get the most done.

Maris said...

Discipline is good until your husband retires.

Morgan Mandel said...

I really need to exert discipline in my writing. Retirement does make it more difficult for some reason, but my goal should be to get more books done, as well as other projects, instead of putting them off.