Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Disciplined Writer

Life and a long career have taught me a thing or two.  One of the most important of these lessons came early and has proven valuable regardless the direction of my endeavors.  That lesson is discipline.  I’m not talking about punishment, counseling, or any of the myriad of other ways authoritarians impose their rules and their will on people.  I’m talking about mental discipline.  When I read blogs or comments discussing motivation, procrastination, writer’s bloc, interruptions, distractions, and similar writers’ complaints, my first thought is, “Are those folks disciplined?”  Probably not, or at least not disciplined in their approach to working at writing.

Being disciplined means being organized.  Mentally organized.  It’s okay to have a messy desk, provided it isn’t so messy you can’t find things you need to write, like notes, references, and so on.  Why is mental organization necessary?  Simple.  It means you organize your thoughts and approaches to getting things done.  Organized thoughts are easier to retrieve.  Think of that as a mental hard drive.  If documents are randomly stored without a proper file system, you will spend a lot of unnecessarily wasted time trying to find the one you need to access.  As a matter of fact, one of the tools to gaining mental organization is to organize your documents into files on your computer, laptop, or tablet.  Like mental organization, you will find that it is far easier to start with a fundamental filing system and grow it than it is to try to build one after accumulating years of documents. 

I can hear all of the creative procrastinators right now as they look at their unfiled documents.  “I need to write, I’ll get to this tomorrow.” No they won’t, but this is where the discipline part of organization comes in for those who want to kill the procrastination bug.  Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.  If you haven’t done any file organization, here’s a simple approach for filing word processing documents in descending order.

Writing [main file] - This separates your writing files from all other files on your computer.
Title [sub-file] - This separates your work by working title.
Background [sub-sub file]
Research [sub-sub-sub file] - This separates supporting documents gathered on the Internet of scans specific to this title.
Notes [sub-sub-sub file] - This is where the writer’s general notes, plot lines, devices, etc. go.
Draft [sub-file] - All drafts and edits go here. If there are illustrations or pictures, create a sub-sub file for those under this sub-file.
Final [sub-file] - The final submission document goes here.  If you have designed your own cover, include the final version in this file.
Conversion Files [sub-file] - e-book converted files go here.

Some writers use programs to help them organize their thoughts and writing.  Scrivener® is one option.  I recently purchased this program and when I finish the two books I’m currently working on, I intend to give it a try.  That isn’t procrastination, is it?

Alright, now you have your files organized.  Ahhh, done, right?  Not so fast.  That’s only part one of the approach to discipline as a writer.  Remember all those other issues... motivation, interruptions, distractions, and so on?  There is a way to minimize those using a disciplined writer’s approach.  Organize your day.  That’s right, create a schedule and stick to it.  This will vary on an individual basis, and depends on one’s personal circumstances, but if a writer is serious about the desire to complete and publish their work on a consistent basis, this is a job.  Perish the thought!  Journalism is a job.  Writing is creative art... writing is passion... writing is... I’ve heard them all, and while true, if the writer intends to profit from that creative art, this is a job.

Jobs, even joyful ones, run on a schedule or they don’t get done.  Schedules, however, can’t be inflexible.  Sometimes another of life’s priorities takes precedence.  Family emergencies, for example, can’t be predicted, but I will guarantee you they will trump a writing schedule every time.  Personally, I don’t consider a boo-boo on Johnnie’s little finger an emergency, but others are.  For example when my oldest child at age six decided to open a cheap pocket knife someone had given him, cutting himself in the process, I took a break from the schedule.  It wasn’t that the cut was so bad, but the running around and hand shaking in the breeze made the walls he passed look like a murder scene.  That’s an emergency!  Barring those sorts of things, stay with the schedule, it will serve you well.

Since I can’t write a schedule that will fit everybody (one size does not fit all), let me lay out mine for you.  Mind you, I work on multiple projects, and my actual schedule is complex, so you get the simplified version.  My start times aren’t included because, well, I’m semi-retired and they change from time to time.  I’ll provide durations, though.  Let’s assume I have risen and eaten breakfast, and done all the other things one takes care of in the morning.  Here’s how my typical day works.

1. Review email and take care of phone calls.  1 hour.
2. Review social media and read and respond to comments.  1.5 - 2 hours.
            Phone off.
3. Editing (includes others' works).1- 2 hours.
4. Meal break. 1/2 hour.
5. Writing/researching (own works) - 1-4 hours - varies with deadlines, but never lower than 1 hour/day actual writing.
            Phone on.
6. Family time and “me” time.

My typical “work” day lasts eight to nine hours.  Part of that is old habit, part is necessity.  Still, I have enough flexibility to work only half days when the mood strikes me.  For me, this is an everyday schedule.  I only abandon it when I go on vacation, and even then, I tend to write in the evenings on my laptop.  Writing is a passion, yes, but it is also a discipline, and the serious writer is a disciplined writer.