I asked my daughter Ali how she saw self-discipline operating in my writing life since she was along for the ride, and here’s what she said:
“Even if it was close to the deadline, you just did it. Your main method was—no matter what, you worked and worked and finished the manuscript by the deadline. There was no such thing as being too busy or having writer’s block. Even if it was the 11th hour, you got it done.
That’s what self-discipline looks like, Ali added. “Or as Bear Grills said, ‘Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.’ I saw my mom do that time after time and book after book. So maybe it was also a lot of grit and determination.
Mom was parenting three growing kids in all these stages and went to all our games and activities; she was a wife, breadwinner, and somehow through moves and changes in our family, she kept on going. Even if there were things out of her control, I saw her complete each assignment.”
Thank you, Ali! I appreciate my daughter’s observations and her positive comments. I’d been writing since I was a little girl: making up poems and little stories and reading like crazy. But writing a 180 page book on a deadline was a whole different experience! However, I discovered that if you have children as I did, if you have a demanding job, if you’re going through a family health crisis or divorce, or other calamities, the only way to be a writer is just to do it. WRITE. And KEEP WRITING. And never give up.
For a number of years, I’d get very stressed a few weeks before a book deadline the publisher had set. I’d have insomnia and worry and lose my appetite. After much prayer, the Lord showed me I needed to learn to work under deadlines without being stressed. And little by little, he gave me the grace to do that. My agent also suggested that I divide the number of chapters into the number of months in the contract, and that was helpful.
Sometimes I had to do some creative problem solving, like when our family had a trip to Colorado planned. And less than three weeks after our return home, I had a book deadline. So I wrote half the book on the way in the eleven hour car trip back to Oklahoma. I admit it was a Christmas book (approximately 130 pages) and not a 180 page nonfiction book, but still. It had to be done. Fortunately I wasn’t driving. Holmes was.
Instead of just self-discipline. (which is important), I would say the secret to my continuing to work as a writer throughout twenty-five years is the word FOCUS.
According to the dictionary, “When a person is focused on something, they’re paying attention to it. When a camera lens or your eyes are focused, they’ve made the adjustments needed to see clearly. When a beam of light is focused on a thing, it’s shining on that thing.”
So out of that razor-sharp focus, I had a clear and definite purpose: writing queries to magazines, writing the articles, writing the book proposals, and writing the books and finishing it on time. Then rewriting and editing and reading it out loud to my husband or friend and revising some more until it was the best it could be. And it was always worth it when the magazine arrived and the article I wrote was in it, or when I saw the cover of that new book in my mailbox.