Missouri, 2008, digital photography, www.carolineallen.com
The single most important aspect of being a new writer is setting and sticking to a regular writing discipline. To fully engage the process of writing, one must be doing it regularly, in a room of their own, without interruption.
What does a writing discipline mean?
It means setting the same time each day, the same days each week, to commit to the writing process. I write fiction from 8 until noon, Monday through Friday, and have done this for 15 years. I schedule my work commitments from 1-5 p.m., and have changed my life to accommodate this writing schedule. By scheduling the same time every day for years, I have an almost Pavlovian response when I sit down to write. It is as if all the information I need is being held until the moment I face my novel on the computer screen. As soon as I begin my daily writing, I tap into this information and the writing flows.
A discipline also allows you to have a life outside of writing, for those of us who get so deeply involved with our work we forget to come up for air.
The writing time can be used for all sorts of writing activities, not just writing words on the page. During my writing sessions, my focus is fully on my novel and what nurtures that novel, reading biographies, watching related films, reading about how to improve characterization, meditating on the next plot twist. In other words, the writing discipline doesn’t have to be just about the physical act of writing. For example, I am working on Air, my second novel. I lived in Japan, and the setting is Tokyo. So, I’m reading two books during my writing time right now, one is a nonfiction book on weather and wind currents, so I can feel the theme of Air in my bones, and the other is a biography of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, during whose reign the novel is set.
I work with clients who have small children, who have to be creative in finding a regular, sustainable writing discipline. One has a babysitter for three to four hours, three days a week. Another mother of a small child with a full-time job goes to a coffee shop on her lunch hour to write. The writing progresses rapidly the more time you can give to it, but even one hour a day regularly can result in the rough draft of a book in a year or two.
Even if you do not want to become a full-time writer, but only want to write a book, setting a regular writing discipline is the only way to finish it in a timely manner, or truly to finish it at all. The process is a long and difficult one and it’s easy to give up.
I suggest clients write for a year, and keep a journal of their progress each day. At the end of the year, they can look back and see that, for example, they were productive for three months, and less productive for a month while they took an unconscious break. Or they note that during certain times of the year they were reading a lot and writing less during their allotted time, and writing more and reading less during other months. One can learn what their yearly cycle is, adapt to it and use it to their advantage.