You sit down to write, but you’re not inspired. You’ve done everything you can think of to put it off as you wait for your muse to show herself, but she is not making an appearance today. Who can be creative without a little inspiration, you ask. That’s the necessary ingredient for any real writing, right?
Well, no, not really. In fact, not at all. Inspiration, flash of insight, muse, whatever you call it, it’s a myth. What you really need is a something to write with, somewhere to sit, and some good old-fashioned, self-discipline. You are writing a book. You are an author, a professional. Professionals don’t have the luxury of waiting around for inspiration to strike before they get down to business.
Maybe this misunderstanding exists because you work at home. Consider this: If you had to clock in at a factory job or were expected to teach a first-hour math class or had a curtain call for a Sunday matinee, you wouldn’t take your emotional temperature first. You’d just do what you were expected to do, and on those days when you just don’t feel like working, nothing short of a 103-degree fever would keep you from doing it, anyway. That’s the nature of work. To state the obvious, writing a book is work, and all of normal rules of work apply.
So, where does good, old-fashioned self-discipline come from? Is it natural or cultivated? Are we born with it, or do we train for it? Anyone who has ever watched a hungry baby knows self-discipline is anything but instinctive. Children learn delayed gratification a moment at a time. It gets easier with time for most youngsters, but even some adults never really get the hang of it.
But before you despair, take comfort in the fact that self-discipline is a learned skill, not an innate characteristic. You can develop it, but it’s going to take practice. As with any kind of self-improvement program, developing self-discipline requires time and tenacity. Here are four tips to make the whole challenge a little more doable.
- Admit that this is not your strong suit, yet, but that doesn’t me it won’t be. The first step is simply to decide to strengthen your self-discipline the same way you would strengthen a muscle.
- Create a plan. For example, beginning on Monday morning, you will sit down at your computer for at least fifteen minutes. If nothing happens in fifteen minutes, you can get up, but you will at least know you did what you intended to do. If you’re still writing at the fifteen-minute mark, there is no law that says you can’t stay a little longer, but just be sure you give it at least fifteen minutes.
- Remove the temptations from your line of sight. What could derail you during those first fifteen minutes? Could it be the need to go to the kitchen to get coffee or some food? If that’s a danger, get it first before you sit down. Just anticipate whatever might get in your way, and eliminate it before you start
- Learn to live with a little discomfort. Of course, you’d rather not. Who wants to be uncomfortable? But, honestly, a little discomfort isn’t going to kill you and will even convince you that you can handle it, even if you have to spend the whole time squirming in your chair or staring at the ceiling.
- Keep your eyes on the prize. Remember what you hope to achieve, even if it is as little as a page of typewritten copy. It’s a start and one that will give you a feeling of success.
- Forgive yourself when you blow it. And some days, you will blow it. Nobody succeeds every day. So, if you sit down to write and fail miserably, don’t beat yourself up. Tomorrow is another day, and chances are it will be better than today.
After a while you will realize that there is more to writing than the magic of your muse. If there’s any magic involved, it is that you were able to conquer your doubts, your demons, and your lack of determination. Congratulations!