On writing & discipline

It is an unequivocal truth that novels do not write themselves. Irrespective of how many words a writer can produce in an hour, or how many hours in a day (or even a week) can be made available to write, the fact remains that every single word and every single minute counts.

Today I am mostly concerned with the minutes and the hours — because it is so very easy to allow potential writing time to dissipate like smoke in air. Just yesterday I took myself off to meet a fellow writer in the pub. Armed with computers we were supposed to enjoy three solid hours of writing time away from the Interwebs, but instead substituted one distraction for another: chat. Don’t get me wrong, it was very enjoyable. Stimulating too, for we conversed on writing topics (mostly). But neither of us were disciplined enough to seize the opportunity we had cursed well created for ourselves to write!

Beating the Interwebs, however, is the far bigger challenge for me on an ongoing basis — particularly as my use of social networking increases. I am reading more blogs, clicking through to more links . . . and now I’ve just joined Twitter (@ellenvgreg). I posted on the lure of the blog maze not too long ago, so I won’t repeat myself, but Twitter has only amplified my propensity for distraction as it points me to even more blogs and writing sites. You might say that of late the blog maze has been winning.

So. Discipline. I need to set some new rules.

The other day I came across Zadie Smith’s rules for writers (directed from a Twitter feed, of course). They are a beautifully succinct list of all the things I know I should be doing and it was great to be reminded. In light of my current discussion, I want to draw attention to two of them in particular:

7 . Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­Internet.
8.  Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

Such wise words. But in order to work on a computer disconnected from the Internet I need to get away from the house. (Alas, I don’t think it’s in me to switch off the modem.) This is where the pub usually works well, and I have also had some success writing alone in a local cafe. My current intention is to continue with the weekly pub sessions (with greater discipline) and to visit the cafe a couple of times each week in the afternoon. Aside from the improved productivity, it’s great to have a change of scene and a nice cup of coffee.

For the rest of the time, writing at home, the new rule is that I must write for at least two hours in the morning before opening Twitter, clicking on any links or reading any blogs. This will hopefully prevent the scenario that I reach lunchtime and I still haven’t opened the WIP!

I should point out that, since I am not working at present, I am probably suffering from the curse of ‘too much time’ overall. I think they call it Parkinson’s Law — work expands to fill the time available. Most writers have jobs and families, and have to squeeze in their precious writing time around a barrage of other commitments. I think this can actually help with self-discipline — isn’t there an adage that says the busiest people get the most done?

I know I’m never again going to have as much time as this to experiment with social media (or exercise, or meet friends for lunch, or sleep in. . .), but nor will I have this much writing time again either. Since getting a novel published is the end-game, writing said novel really must come first. I know from experience that I can be disciplined enough to fit writing in around a full-time professional job, but I would really like exploit my current opportunity and achieve as much as possible. So finding new ways to get disciplined and efficient are imperative!

I’m interested in how other writers maximise their writing time and force themselves to be disciplined. Any tips?

6 thoughts on “On writing & discipline

  1. As you know I’m in pretty much the same boat as you, and it is now at the point where I don’t even pretend I’m going to do any writing before 10am. My mornings are social media time (and this includes writing my own blog) and afternoons/evenings are writing time. I’d still only average about 500 words a day and I’m usually pretty fast.

    The thing is, as much as it feels like procrastination, you need an internet presence if you want a publisher to pick you up. They Google you if they like your manuscript. If you turn up, gold star, if they can’t find anything, red cross. Well so they said at the writers conferences anyway.

    You have a manuscript that is ready to go, perhaps you need this excess time to beef up your internet presence. It might just be the thing that tips it over the edge (in a good way) for a publisher to pick you up.


  2. I’ve been pretty good about getting some writing done first thing in the morning, but my plans to get more done in the afternoon / evening always seem to go astray 8(


  3. Natalie – yes, I bet your days are much like mine – although I would be ecstatic if I’d finished my online time and blogging by 10am! That’s about when I’m getting started, because my other problem is (ahem) getting out of bed. Hence my new rule of writing first. At the moment I’m finding myself writing past midnight to get past my minimum daily word quota. Considering I’ve had the whole day, that’s just pathetic!


  4. Leif – When you say first thing in the morning, do you mean pre-work? I have found pre-work sessions quite productive in the past, but I’ve only managed short bursts of a few weeks before circumstances changed (the first time I finished my MS, the second time I quite my job). Problem with them is they’re not long enough (unless you get up REALLY early). But I really like getting words under my belt first thing – it takes the pressure off the rest of the day. Anything further becomes a bonus 🙂


  5. Yep, I start at 10am, so I have a little more leeway, but it’s get up, grab a coffee or a green tea, and get the words done.

    Except today was too cold and I’m sick, so I slept in and took the day off. In theory that should give me more time to get those words done…


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