Writing is a creative process, and like any such endeavor, it relies on inspiration. However, many writers perhaps don’t realize that inspiration alone is not always enough. Another element is needed. That element is discipline.
The ideal situation for a writer is to be flooded with great ideas, with words and sentences seemingly flowing out of nowhere. But sometimes this isn’t the case.
Sometimes you are stuck, and you feel like you might have to give up. But imagine if giving up is not an option—for example, if there is a deadline looming. You then need the supportive kind of discipline to push you forward. This will help you build your work.
If making a living out of writing interests you, then you definitely need discipline of mind and body; it means the will to sit in a spot and work on your ideas. After all, in order to form brilliant words and sentences that will make you money and help you build a business, you have to be able to sit down and focus.
In the late 1990s, I was freelancing mostly and sent a pitch to an editor stating I had managed to get an interview with a popular Indian movie star. My pitch was accepted.
I felt I could complete the article in an hour. So, after returning home, I indulged in a bit of celebration by going out for a drink. I presumed it would be pretty easy to complete the article.
The next couple of days, I celebrated a bit more, inviting friends over for meals.
On the fourth day, I decided to put a stop to my celebrations, and so I sat down to write. A few hours later, I faxed the article to my editor. I got a reply thanking me for a good job. Later on, most of my ideas and submissions started getting politely rejected. I did not understand the sudden change.
I went over my emails to this editor, and there it was: The interview with the artist had a hard deadline that I had seen and known, yet I forgot it while having a blast and, as a result, missed it.
That article never got published.
It is important to keep this in mind: If your dream is to become a successful writer, then the work has to be “real.” And one of the requirements is to cultivate discipline.
The steps will include goal-setting—working today, tomorrow, and every day till you achieve your results. Remember the saying: if you take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself. This helps a lot.
Think of it along these lines: if you have a few writing assignments today, only after you complete them, can you start looking for more work tomorrow.
As a writer, it is important to keep generating work.
Yes, it is difficult to push when you do not see the results. Discipline acts as the lynchpin at such times. It works to keep you going.
Discipline is often the key to achieving anything in life. Take time management for instance; you need discipline to use your time wisely.
Furthermore, being mindful is a requirement for successful social interaction, and it’s an important tool for building social skills. Whether in professional or personal life, discipline is a must.
Research shows that people who have self-discipline experience an overall healthy and balanced life.
But discipline can come in many forms and be understood differently by different people. So, what kind of discipline is important to a writer?
Writing is a craft that needs honing just like music.
When it comes to music lessons, you attend classes where you work on mastering those skills. But, importantly, after the lesson you go home and practice. You go over musical notes and play them till you reach a certain degree of perfection.
The same method applies to writers, too. Think of lessons as something very basic that is given to you, and you have to work “with” it and “on” it.
Let us take a brief as an example here.
If you get a brief on what to write, you might have to work “with” that brief to create an article. And in order to create that article, you will need to work a bit more “on” that brief.
Being a writer is no different from working toward being a musician. Just as music needs either vocal or some other kind of physical coordination, writing needs mental labor.
You need to put in the hours, shaping your ideas and polishing your writing, in order to achieve clarity, coherence, and order.
On the route to success, you are bound to encounter boredom, frustrations, or dead ends in the form of blank page. Try to learn the art of perseverance.
You can definitely make a success out of it if you have discipline backing you up.
The very first step toward discipline would be to make up your mind and set your writing goals. Once you have these, try to understand your weaknesses, and start befriending discipline.
Inspiration and ideas are important. But they need some assistance in the form of creating a workstation—a place where you can put all the tools required for completing your writing tasks including a desk, computer, reading materials and some stationery. Underestimating the importance of a dedicated workstation is definitely not a good idea. You need to assign a fixed space to work from.
Remember not to treat it as just another corner where you dump a few pens and tea coasters. Treat it with the respect it deserves because this space is going to help you make money in the near future.
Bear in mind, a workstation is a place that represents you and your work.
I will cite an example from the renowned Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s desk. One look at his work corner and it completely represented Murakami to me. Besides the essentials like the computer and stationery, Murakami’s desk comprises books, mementos collected from different places, a coffee mug, and a fax machine.
While setting up your desk, think of the essentials, followed by adding a bit of special touch. I like fresh flowers, water, and a flask of hot cocoa on my desk.
Invest a great deal of thought into organizing your special corner because you will be spending a good amount of your time there. One thing to keep in mind is to not include things that might distract you.
The next step is to fix a schedule and start working on the ideas and inspirations.
Each of these steps requires some form of discipline—and when you link them all, you achieve a result.
If you really want something, you will work for it. In that scheme of things, you will want to include discipline.
Simply put, you need to set clear goals and have an execution plan that includes all that matters to a writer, such as the workspace, ideas, research materials, target word count, etc.
This can be followed by working on the content, practicing it with the intention of writing at a top-quality level.
Quality content does not happen overnight. Write every day—yes, this expression is a cliché, but a very useful one. It is a helpful reminder, too.
Write about what you like and sometimes even about what you don’t like. This way, you will never run short on ideas.
Writing about what you don’t like might sound a bit outside-the-box. But it works for me because it helps me challenge my mind and expand it by taking it to a place that needs to be explored.
Some of the steps that can lead you toward your final step include reading, comprehending your observations, and having a desire to express and inform. These should be followed by practicing your writing every day.
If you are interested in earning money with your writing, there are a few things you might want to consider like the quality of your articles and blogs, followed by writing regularly, meeting deadlines, etc. You have to be prepared to put in the effort to achieve the desired results.
You need to be in command of the topic, research for information quickly, and know what has already been covered to avoid duplication. The actual writing should be error-free and should have quality content.
If you do not stay up to date on reading, or you don’t practice writing enough, you will struggle with a 500-word article the entire day, and you will still be unsure whether your content is of quality or not.
As for your reading habits, how and what you read matters. Yes, there is something called “how you read” because reading requires an ability to absorb the material and reflect on it. Speed-reading should be avoided.
The importance of reading can’t be overemphasized. Writing is a creative work, and reading helps improve your creativity, point you toward new and interesting topics, and explore ideas from a different perspective. Most of all, reading helps you build your vocabulary.
Additionally, you need to make sure you know the different styles required for various platforms.
Take social media, for instance. Twitter, Instagram, etc. may appear similar, but if you give them a close read, you will see how different they are. The language, the writing tone, and the style vary. Also compare Facebook and LinkedIn.
Aside from social media, think of essays, fiction, news reports, feature articles, blogs, and writing for online media. They all need a different approach.
Because reading is an exercise for your mind, you should try to categorize it. Here is one possible classification system:
Of course, sometimes you might feel like reading gossip articles or other light reading. This is a way to relax your mind and have some fun without having to bother about learning. This is still considered a tool that will help with your writing simply because you are staying connected with words in one form or the other. And words are your staple.
There really are no shortcuts; you have to make friends with hard work and discipline if you are serious about achieving your writing goals. And part of this is keeping any distracting elements at bay
Discipline is all about self-control. Once you become aware of your distractions, working on keeping them away will be easy work.
Every time I face challenges while writing, I find myself thinking of food. And it is not like I am hungry or anything; I will think of food and then start watching or reading about food. Watching and reading about food automatically makes me want to eat something.
Sure enough, after 10 minutes of indulging in this activity, I enter my kitchen and start rustling up a snack or a meal; or even a cup of tea and some biscuits when there is no need for food or a snack.
By then I have already lost an hour or so.
It could be music, a movie, and unwanted thoughts about stuff that have no connection whatsoever.
Bear in mind that distractions are moving around freely, waiting to consume you and your time. It takes a lot of willpower to push them away. You really have to acquire that mental strength to move away from all that stops you from reaching your goals.
Therefore, the best thing to do is to understand the pattern and try to overcome your distractions.
Instead of getting upset with yourself, ask why and when your mind starts wavering? Does it happen often, and if yes, then does it happen when you hit a dead end?
Tell yourself it is OK, and spring back into action as soon as you realize you are indulging your distraction.
When you are distracted while trying to work on your writing, not only do you lose time, but you also have to start all over again when you get back to your work. When you do, it is possible that you have lost your train of thought as well, no matter how weak those thoughts were to begin with.
Pick a time when you would like to sit, and put all your thoughts and ideas on the page.
No matter what, devote yourself to that time and schedule you have set aside.
Start writing. Without interrupting your flow of thoughts, just let it go.
Some days, you will find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place. You know what that means? It is a signal to grow. Do not give up.
Have you seen a flower on a cactus plant? It’s bright and shining, surrounded by rocks and thorns. I am positive it was not easy for the plant to bloom among such “hostile” terrain. But it did and we enjoy looking at it.
Your writing needs to survive such times for it to be enjoyed by others.
Writing is labor-intensive. It truly is a manual labor. There is no option but to work at it like you would work at any other job you take up.
Read and write. And then write and read some more. Follow this pattern; there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your work complete.
Having a word-count target for the day helps a lot. Some days you will achieve less, and other days you will exceed the set limits. Don’t be too preoccupied by the word count; it is there to help you achieve your goals. It is your pal.
Just as you might have targets at work, remember: This is your work as a writer, and therefore, having a target is essential to reaching your goals.
Pick a spot, create a workstation, and just as you would get ready if you were working away from home, go to your workstation, set your breaks, and work for nine hours if you are taking two 30-minute breaks.
Respect your work time at home. You wouldn’t watch television while at work, so follow the same rule while writing.
Of course, there will be times when you feel stuck and would like to take a walk. That is OK. I take long walks when I get stuck while working on an idea. And then suddenly, I find that my mind has begun to clear. I record my thoughts on my phone, and when I get home, I start working on them.
There are always exceptions to the rules. But make those rare, and keep them as they are supposed to be: exceptions!
Some writers might find adhering to a routine difficult at first. But the truth is, nothing in life comes easy.
If you got into writing because you thought all you had to do was to coin a few words, thinking that was enough to become a great writer, then you will be disappointed.
Think of the discipline and hard work required as a deal you are making with yourself. Make a conscious decision that today and every working day, you will not indulge in things outside of what is important for you in the long run.
Since it is writing you have opted for, trade in your hard work and discipline to earn and achieve your long-term goal of becoming a successful writer.
Ultimately, it is really easy to walk this path, but only once you eliminate the excuses and develop healthy habits.
Ranga lives in Mississauga and is a freelance journalist. She has worked as a feature story writer for daily newspapers and contributed for websites and magazines. She is also a published fiction writer. Ranga is currently working on her certificate for Writing For The Web from School of Continuing Studies University of Toronto.