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Give Your Writing the Gift of Structure & Discipline

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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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