What? We have to be disciplined to be a writer? Writing is one of the arts, and everyone knows art flows out of passion and the fire within. You know, the muse.
Yeah. Right. Tell that to your editor when your book is due in a month and your muse deserted you four months ago.
So I’m going to propose a few disciplines that have helped me stay on track, even when I don’t feel like writing.
The personal disciplines:
Write every day. Yep, even when the muse is cavorting with every writer on the planet—except you. Sit down at the computer and write. You may create complete drivel, but some of it might be salvageable. The discipline here is to promote the feeling that emotion follows action – i.e., act lovingly toward someone you don’t currently have much affection for, and that loving feeling will show up. Here, by sitting down and going through the motion of writing you might discover real passion taking the place of initial mechanics. Even if you have to do a typing exercise to get you started, sit down and get to work.
Read every day. While there are many reasons for a person to take up writing, one of the most common is that we’ve been touched by a book and hope to touch others through a book of our own. Other books not only stir our passion for writing, they can teach us everything from punctuation and style to what works and what doesn’t. And while I always recommend doing a market study of the genre in which you hope to write, don’t stop there. Read everything—everything excellent, that is. Learn from the best of what’s out there. Best sellers are usually a best seller for a reason, particularly if it’s a debut author. Find whatever it is that makes a popular book appeal to so many readers.
Practice saying this: Revisions are my friend. And then act on it. I firmly believe the best writers are the best RE-writers. Every time I go through one of my manuscripts I find something to change, to improve. And while there is always the danger of revising something to death, definitely a time to let go and move on to a new project, keep in mind that nothing is set in stone until it comes off the printer’s production line.
Monitor the internal tapes running through your head. While it’s fine to repeat: “Revisions are my friend,” it isn’t okay to say (particularly after a rejection): “Who do I think I am to try writing a book?” The Bible says God can use even the weak to do His work, so if you’ve been given a gift to write, it doesn’t matter what insecurities you suffer. A rejection may be a reason to work harder at perfecting your craft, but it isn’t a reason to doubt your worth, either as a person or as a writer.
The service disciplines:
Join a critique group. This is for the new writer as well as the seasoned ones. Often we start out too shy to want to share our words with others, but that’s a shyness we naturally need to get over if we ever hope to be published. Hello, the world is about to read what you’ve written, so sharing your work with friends or fellow writers should be easy. One caveat when it comes to sharing your work with others: make it your best effort before sharing, and don’t share too much online where “the world” is already your audience (i.e. a blog or other network where too much exposure might caution an editor about the remaining size of your audience for a particular piece). There is also another end of the spectrum for published authors about sharing their work, where some feel so experienced they no longer need a critique partner. We have our editor, after all. Well, why not make it easier on said editor and keep our critique partners? A fresh eye can spot errors or inconsistencies even from the most talented writer.
Give back to the writing community—well, let me clarify that: Give something positive to the writing community, even if you’ve been burned. This would include things like offering encouragement to other writers through contest judging, or joining or creating a face-to-face critique group where people can plug into a support system in this rather lonely business. Volunteer to help out at a writer’s conference, show up at a book signing for a fellow author, write a positive review online, help with the behind-the-scene coordination of a contest for new writers through the many writers’ organizations out there. Make a difference to help the writing community.
The Spiritual disciplines:
Pray every day. Pray for God to use you through your writing endeavors. Pray for others in this industry, for guidance and wisdom and a greater audience for God to touch through your writing. Hand over any selfish desires and replace them with trust that God wants what’s best for you. Pray that God will grant excellence in your talents and pursuits, then trust Him to answer that prayer or guide you to where you can experience the excellence He wants to entrust to you.
Establish a prayer team for you and your ministry. Ask the prayer warriors around you to pray regularly for you, that God would use your writing passion not only for His glory but as a way to continually draw you nearer to Him. Ask them to petition God that His will and wisdom be apparent to you, that your trust in Him will grow as you deepen the writing ministry He’s put on your heart.
Discipline . . . can be a very good thing.