Give Your Writing the Gift of Structure & Discipline

I loved school growing up. I didn’t know it then, but I thrived on the structure and discipline of study. I always felt more productive when in school. (Work later served the same purpose—feelings of creativity and productivity.)

But I have exactly the opposite inclinations in my personal life. No structure, no restrictions, no discipline; leaf blowing in the wind, moving with the stream, going wherever the mood takes you.

(Which is why it is probably so very dangerous for me to be without a formal office or job! But that’s a blog post for my personal site.)

So, when I want to get serious about an endeavor, I have to set up a structure or a system to hold me accountable. Even if it’s something I’m passionate about, I can’t leave it to my whims, desires, or However-Whenever-Whatever mantras.

And I was struck by the universality of this as I served as executive editor of NOVEL IN 30 DAYS, a special Writer’s Digest publication that will hit newsstands in mid-January 2011.

One of the reasons novel-writing systems are so popular (why NaNoWriMo is so popular!) is that you have to dedicate yourself—you have to really commit yourself—to accomplishing something.

I used to think that obsessing over commitment was silly—that it did not free you at all—but I’m changing my mind.

(Find some more thoughts here, as well as here; this is an issue where I keep a healthy internal debate going.)

Teaching at a university is transforming how I see the issue, too. Playing free and loose with a class will result in sloppy student work. While everyone wants the freedom to be creative, we also need expectations set, for which we’re then held accountable.

Which is why I want to share this message with you:

If you want to accomplish something in your writing life, you have to set up a structure if you want to succeed. Maybe it’s morning pages, maybe it’s a weekly word count goal, maybe it’s sitting down for 15 minutes at least one time a day, even if nothing gets written.

But somehow, you have to decide and commit, or else you’re not serious about it. And (maybe worst of all), other people won’t take you seriously, either.

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6 thoughts on “Give Your Writing the Gift of Structure & Discipline

  1. David mark brown

    Definately agree. When writing part time I had to cram my writing time all into one day so I could get a few hours at once. Now I shoot for ten pages in a day before being released for social media, etc. Try to do that four days a week while reserving one day to catch up with odd writing tasks etc. This sort of discipline (new for me) has helped me tons.

  2. Carol J. Alexander

    Jane, we sound so much alike. I think two things happened in my writing life that have been instrumental at keeping me on task. The first is learning to send out query letters. Keep them rolling out the door cause once they are sent, you are committed. Then the second was to secure columnist positions. Now I HAVE to come up with so many articles a month whether I feel like it or not. I may not do this forever, but I believe it is teaching me a lot about being disciplined.

  3. Laura Reese

    I think structure in writing is crucial. It’s too easy to get distracted. My best time is in the morning, phone shut off. I force myself to leave the laundry, the dishes, the stuff for at least an hour. It’s amazing what it can do for your confidence and word count! The more often you write in a routine — at about the same time/same place every day (or as often as you can) — the better your brain turns "on" at that time. Take it from Stephen King … same advice in "On Writing."

    Thanks Jane!

  4. Susan Cushman

    So true, Jane. Recently a writing partner challenged me to write six hours/day "off the top"… BEFORE blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and the daily distractions of working at home. This is an amazing new structure for my writing life. Even if I "fail" some days (only write 3-4 hours, for example) the structure is now in place and carries me through on most days. The word count thing doesn’t work for me, though. It seems to devalue the time spent thinking, researching, reflecting, living with my characters. But everyone must find what works best for them. Thanks for another great post.


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