Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Authors Need Discipline, Not Inspiration

It's the new year, and you've decided you're finally going to the gym. For the first few days, you're sweating like a champ. You're sore and achy from the muscles you haven't pushed since you were back in school, but you're pushing through. Then you start cheating. It's not that you don't still want to lose that weight, and get the body you've been talking about for years, but you'd have to wash your workout clothes, and get off the couch, and drive through traffic... and it just seems like it's not worth the effort. One day won't kill you, and you can get back to it twice as hard the next day. Then the next day comes around, and you find some other excuse. Then, before you know it, you've been paying for a gym membership you haven't used in six months, and you're wondering how you got here.

And that dream physique goes right back to being just a dream.
If you're wondering what any of this has to do with writing, replace "going to the gym" with "working on your book," and you're there.

Inspiration is Temporary, Discipline is Eternal

Don't get me wrong, inspiration is great. It's that shot of adrenaline that slams into your head, and makes all your synapses fire at once when you get a new idea. It's the excitement you get when you sit down to work on a new project. It's a drug that can leave you buzzed for a while, and make you feel great about what you're doing. When that high wears off, though, all too often your work ethic evaporates along with it.

I wonder where I could get some more of that...
This leads us to another problem; the serial starter. A lot of writers think that losing their enthusiasm means the project isn't ready, and they use that as an excuse to stop trying. So they put it down, and start work on something else that's grabbed their attention. These inspiration junkies comfort themselves by saying they'll get back to the first project once they find that fire again... but they won't. And then they hop from the second project to the third, the third to the fourth, and pretty soon they're surrounded by a bunch of introductions and starting chapters, with nothing remotely resembling a complete work.

You don't need inspiration to be an author. It's nice, and it helps, but it isn't necessary. To be an author you need to have the ability to sit down at the keyboard, focus your brain, and get shit done. Maybe you can only do a few hundred words per day. But you know something? If you put in 500 words every day (which is probably less than the length of this blog post), then that means you'll have a 100,000-word novel in 200 days. That's one novel a year. If you could keep this up for a few years, then you'll have a respectable stable of books to your name.

Now just imagine if you could write 1,000 words a day. That isn't much, but it would let you do two books a year. If, that is, you can grit your teeth, build up the discipline to put your ass in your chair every day, and add that much story without browsing the Internet, texting your family, and succumbing to the siren's song of whatever TV show you've been binge watching.

It sounds easy. Trust me, it isn't.

Making The Habit

If you haven't already gotten in the habit of writing every day, then it's going to take time. If you can make it through a month, you'll be doing well. If you can make it three months, you'll have the habit set. Do it for a year, and it's going to take more than a new season of Game of Thrones to make you skip a day.

Seriously, it's easier to say "no" with every death.
The gym metaphor is important to keep in mind, because if you've ever tried to get on a workout regimen, that's a lot like writing a novel. You know what you're doing, and you have a notebook that tracks your basic outline to help keep you on task. All you have to do is show up, and sweat. That's the part a lot of writers don't want to do, but you need to if you're ever going to finish something.

You think inspiration is addictive? Wait until you get used to completing a project. It will turn you into a fiend. Trust me.

As always, thanks for stopping in on this week's Craft of Writing update. If you'd like to help support me, and keep this blog running smoothly, then why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? As little as $1 a month can be a bigger help than you'd ever guess. Also, if you haven't done it already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to keep up with my latest releases?

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