Craft of Writing

How to Manufacture Self-Discipline to Write

I’ve always wanted to be a self-disciplined writer. You know – one of those people who get up every morning at 5:00 a.m. so they can write for an hour before the rest of the household stirs. Or one of those people who firmly says “no thank you” to the spontaneous pizza invite received while they are tapping away on their computer. Or one of those people who doesn’t allow themself to turn on the TV until after they have knocked out their designated word count for the day.

I am not any of those people. I’m more of a hit-the-snooze-button-three-times, eat-the-pizza, get-to-it-after-the-show-is-over kind of person. Which, when you throw in a day job, family obligations, and other life issues, does not leave much writing time available.

For years I tried to emulate my self-disciplined writing heroes. I’d set the alarm an hour earlier – only to be annoyed with myself three snooze-button punches later. I have refused to answer the phone while typing when the caller ID reflected the number of someone I was pretty sure was going to have a better offer, but my pitiful-self called them back just in case they had called because they had a life-threatening emergency. And no TV until the word count is achieved? You’d be amazed how much gibberish I can type when the theme music for Seal Team is heard two rooms away – it’s kind of like the writing version of someone shaking their wrist spasmodically so their Fitbit registers them getting their “steps” in. Shameful.

I questioned whether I could really be a writer. Sure I wanted to write, loved to write, felt called to write – but wouldn’t a real writer naturally have the self-discipline to actually get the writing done? Or, at the very least, succeed at pretending they had self-discipline by emulating what self-disciplined writers do?

My choices were to either (A) drop the writing dream, or (B) find a way to manufacture a self-discipline equivalent. Neither my head nor my heart would allow me to let go of the desire to write. Ideas and words I felt called to share kept swirling around my head begging for a written release. For sanity’s sake, I had to go with Option B.

I needed to stop mentally beating myself up for not having self-discipline in my writing world before I could figure out the alternative. And in order to do that, I had to stop comparing myself to other writers with regard to process and procedure. There are so many variables that factor in a writer’s choice or preference in their writing process: employment situations, family obligations, writing location availability, health issues, energy levels, and on and on. There is not some universal right way to plan out writing time – we each have to figure out what works best for us. Knowing what other writers do may inspire or motivate, but it can be counterproductive to try and adopt a process that does not work with our own personal situation and disposition.

My epiphany came when I examined my own successes: writing projects that had deadlines got done. In contrast, writing projects on my wish list languished. When I realized I was more productive when I had the accountability of a deadline, I knew I could manufacture the equivalent of self-discipline by finding a way to create accountability for self-imposed deadlines.

I contacted a writing pal, confessed my “shameful” lack of self-discipline, and shared my thoughts about external-discipline. To my surprise, this accomplished author experienced the same struggles in her own writing journey. As it turns out, there are thousands of us who really are writers – in spite of the fact that a bright-eyed 5:00 a.m. writing session isn’t our thing. And many of us have discovered the benefits of joining forces with others who also benefit from manufactured accountability. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Get an accountability buddy. My author friend and I connect every other week to report progress and set the next set of specific deadlines. More than once I have scurried to wrap up a word count or project “deadline” within hours of our upcoming connection so that I’d be able to report having met my deadline. Mission accomplished!
  • Join a writer accountability group. I had no idea that was a thing until I started writing this article. I had only typed “writing acc” in the browser before “writing accountability groups near me” popped up as a search option. Oh. I guess I’m not the first one to come up with the accountability solution to the productivity problem!
  • Participate in a focus group. FocusMate is a free online app that allows people with like interests to connect with others around the world to work together (on their own individual projects) in a focused work session – with instant accountability. Christopher Masseli, one of the Write Well Sell Well team members, has created a subgroup through FocusMate just for writers – you can check it out at https://writingmomentum.com/focusmate/

There may come a day when huge pockets of writing time open up because I have given up the day job, family obligations have ground to a halt, and snooze buttons have become obsolete. But until that magical day, I am going to make my writing dreams come true, with a little help from my accountability friends, by meeting one self-imposed deadline after another.

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