Defining Disciplined: When You Realize You’re Doing It Wrong

I’m trying little mug, I really am. Photo via Pexels

“You’re so disciplined.”

People say this to me a lot, and it’s not entirely surprising. In my group of friends, both in the bookish world and not, I’m known for not sleeping, writing in cafes half the week, and being the first one at my coworking space, hunched over my laptop before the lights are even turned on.

I’m your writer friend that’s on Google Chat when you wake up, and I’m still there when you’re about to go to sleep.

During my undergrad, one of my favorite professors used to say that a lot of writing was just “showing up to do the work” and that “you really have to want it.” It was advice that stuck with me for a really long time and had a pretty profound effect on how I treated my time once I started pursuing writing books.

I had to be disciplined. I had to find the time to show up.

But lately, I’ve been rethinking what being disciplined really means, and if I can even call myself that.

Over the past few years, in my wild push for my career in books, there have been a lot of sacrifices in the name of discipline. And that’s part of being disciplined, right? Control. Sacrifice. Staying up late instead of relaxing. Ignoring dozens of Facebook invites so you can get that last chapter written. Going to the bar for happy hour? I can spend an hour happily editing, thank you very much.

And the result of this, is that I’ve been lucky. My new novel publishes next year, and I’ve got another book following it in 2021.

But lately, the words just aren’t coming. I have an option book that I need to write. And I’m stuck.

Because I’m terribly unhappy.

When we talk about discipline, we tend to talk about sacrifice. What we give up pursuing our art. But something that gets left out of that conversation in a really big way, is the discipline for self-care that nurtures that art. That sustains our drive to create. That pushes us to go out and find ourselves surrounded by what inspires us to write in the first place.

I’ve been sitting back and thinking about this a lot lately. The events I’ve skipped. The backyard barbeques I’ve missed. The date night I’ve postponed or the trip to see hometown friends I’ve put off. Moments with the people that bring the light that makes me want to tell stories. Who I playfully name characters after, or leave inside jokes for.

Where is the discussion about discipline that says you should set aside time to log off, watch bad movies, eat good food, party with friends, and enjoy quiet moments that belong to you and no one else?

So, I’m sorry if I’m not there on Google Chat as often anymore.

And that I’m canceling that writing day at the local café.

I need to go drink a beer, and shout about wanting more Bruce Springsteen on the jukebox. I need to go on a hike along the Schuylkill. I need to go to your BBQ and comment on what you’re making on the grill without actually helping. I need to go to a concert. I need bad pizza with my childhood friends and good wine with my wife.

I want to write.

But I need all of you more.

I think true discipline when you’re an author, is making time for the things in life that inspire you. That drive you to create in the first place.

I’m off to rediscover that.

7 Responses to Defining Disciplined: When You Realize You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Jul 29 2019 at 9:20 am #

    All very true. The heart of the story is the character, and writing characters is always better when you’ve got a lot of real-life experiences to draw upon. Technical proficiency isn’t enough.

  2. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Jul 29 2019 at 9:21 am #

    Yes! This is a sane approach to the writing life — actually having a life that feeds the writing. It’s the same thing that The Artist’s Way defines as “filling the well”. You can’t keep emptying yourself out by pouring what you have into the work without getting a refill once in a while. I raise a beer (well, coffee – it’s morning) in your general direction.

  3. C. K. Alber Jul 29 2019 at 10:07 am #

    So true. My characters come from the people I meet, but unfortunately I let obstacles—sickness in family life put me in the “stop writing” mode.
    So I’ve taken a trip to Europe. I’ve put many things out of my mind and I’m back to people watching. Not everyone can manage a trip abroad to get motivated but it’s worked for me. I can now get back to the story that begins its journey in Rome.
    Once I get back home that is.

  4. Thelma White Jul 29 2019 at 12:22 pm #

    It’s called ‘balance.” All things in life must have it. A writer must have it, so must an artist, a welder, a ditch digger, a home maker. It’s what makes us see the “other side,” it broadens our horizons, and opens our mind to other possibilities. As writers, we can’t just write from our “inner” selves, we have to pull from the “outward,” too. Fresh perspectives help us to keep that balance.

  5. Julie Eshbaugh Jul 29 2019 at 1:20 pm #

    Eric, thanks for sharing this honest post! Like you, I sacrifice a lot to get the writing done, but there are moments you can’t get back, and that’s an important lesson, too. Thanks for the reminder to take care of myself. <3

  6. Chris Jul 29 2019 at 4:24 pm #

    DON’T READ THE COMMENTS sounds like a lot of fun! Isn’t it amazing that you can dig yourself into a cave of misery while creating a story that promises a wild romp with an HEA? Congratulations on your work! Here’s wishing you all the balance you need.

  7. Laura Graefe Sep 24 2019 at 5:52 pm #

    Oh man, this hits. I took time off from my job to, among other things, commit to writing full-time for a few months (in my head that looked like 25 hours a week). Two months in…. 5000 words written during my sabbatical, and they were an immense struggle. Just now am I accepting that I’m only hurting myself and my writing by sitting at the computer day after day when the words won’t come instead of using this time off for other things on those days and remembering that doing that may allow for the words to flow naturally in their own time.

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