Saturday, 3 January 2015

Staying in the Game - Part 1: Discipline

I recently read an article written by an author and writing teacher on the things that a writer needs to ‘stay in the game’, as he put it. Since I have been in ‘the game’ for a while, and would like to stay, I paid attention.
He mentioned three things that a writer needs: discipline, stamina and recognition.
I am sure these words are just as familiar as to you as they are to me, but what do they truly mean for a writer? Google is my friend, so there I went.

Discipline often has a very negative connotation attached to it, and yet it is the very essence of the positive in people. Order, patterns and self-control are not only the tools of a writer, but the tools of a well-balanced individual.
Write everyday. Advice we hear from everywhere and anyone when asked. How do we establish that order, pattern and self-control? Is it difficult to establish this pattern of behaviour?
When we start out as writers, or bloggers, it is with all the good intentions of a new year’s resolution. Yes! This is the year that I will write that novel, or start a blog, or write my memoir. But good intentions alone seldom produce the results we desire. For all my good intentions, I still haven’t managed to loose the weight I have to. Sound familiar?
So what is the answer: you need an action plan. Something that will help you to write the book, or establish that blog.
Ask yourself a few questions:
1.      What do I want to accomplish with this project?
2.     When does it need to be finished? Or in the case of a blog, how often do I want to post?
3.     Am I committed to putting in the time and effort to do it?
4.     Am I a morning person or a night owl?
5.     Where can I make some space for my writing?
6.     How am I going to keep myself accountable?
7.      What support network is available to help me?
Here is what works for me:
1.      When I started to write, I wanted to write romance stories and publish them. I ended up writing fiction in several genres - short stories, flash fiction and novels - as well as two non-fiction books to be published in 2015. It didn’t happen overnight. Decide what you want to write and start there, finish the project and then move on to the next one.
2.     I set a deadline for each project. One novel per year. A short story takes about two months from start to publication. Flash fiction – one week per story. Since there is no one watching over my shoulder, keeping to these deadlines are not easy. If you want to be a blogger, the next date is your deadline. Posting twice a week – there you go, your deadline is set. How often you post is up to you, but to have a successful blog you need to be consistent and post on schedule, your readers and followers expect it.
3.     When I started to write, I did it for my own pleasure, in fact I still do. Since I work as project manager full time, writing is my escape from the stress that defines my working hours. need to write. In the beginning that hadn’t been the case, until I realised how much I liked it, and how much pleasure I got from finishing and publishing a story.
4.     I am a night owl, although I get up very early in the morning, thanks to being married to a morning person. My husband works in another city, so to reduce his stress of battling traffic, he leaves home just after 5am. As a result I am early at work too. This early time gives me the opportunity to do a lot of things before my daily schedule of meetings kicks in. One thing I learned very early in my working life, is to leave work at the office. And it is this exact mind-set that helps me to write at night, even after a long day. After dinner, making lunch boxes for the next day, taking a shower and checking my email, I sit down and write for two hours before bed. Every day, including weekends.
5.     I have an office at home where I do my writing. My husband is an engineer, but he takes his photography very serious – so he has a studio at home where he can hide away to do his thing. I also like to write at a coffee shop, especially over weekends to get away from the distractions at home. It is a quiet place, and the staff and owners (knowing me and my habit) will leave me alone for hours at a time. There aren’t many such places, so I not only support them, but refer as many people as I can to them. They serve the best coffee!
6.     Being accountable is difficult and to help myself, I started a writers’ group in 2011. We meet once a month at the coffee shop I mentioned before. We support each others efforts, and even published a short story anthology in 2014. It was hard work, but all worth the effort to hold that beautiful book in my hands at the end. I also belong to groups on Facebook where holding myself accountable helps me to keep going.
7.      A support network is very important to a writer. Family, friends and online friends too, for which I am truly grateful. When deadlines loom, or NaNoWriMo is upon me, my social life takes a back seat, and the people in my life give me the space I need. I am not sure they truly understand what drives me, but I am grateful for them allowing me to hide in my writing cave at these times.
I have been writing consistently since 2001 and my routine is well established by now. But you need to find out what works for you. Get up earlier to write before work, or after the kids have gone to bed, or maybe lunch time at work. Talk to you family and friends about your writing time being your own, and join a group. Groups are different, and you need to ‘shop’ around until you find one where you get and give what you need.
How disciplined are you when it comes to your creative acitivies? Please share in the comments below.