Writing Discipline: 5 Tips for Professional Writers

by | April 10, 2018 |

Writing discipline: no professional writer can do without it.

Writing Discipline Tip #1: Know Your Biorhythm

Every writer has a biorhythm, and every writer’s biorhythm is different. It may take some time to find your optimal time of the day or night to saddle up and get to work.

I remember reading a successful author’s account of her writing day. In the morning she would get up, drink coffee, read through the newspaper then pick up a magazine. Lunch would roll around. Maybe there would be a few afternoon chores. More leafing through things. Whatever. And then, boom, around 5:30 in the afternoon she’d start to write.

Reading her account made my whole body protest. I’m a morning person. She’s clearly a late afternoon person. I know some writers who start at 10 pm. By then I’m long gone.

Creativity requires imaginative downtime and productive uptime. For me my downtime is at night. I go to sleep thinking about my story, and when I wake up I usually lie around and spend time imagining dialogues and scenes and character developments. Then I get up and write.

My guess is that for the late afternoon writer, all the lazy leafing through what-not during the day is her imaginative downtime. Only later in the day and evening is her body ready to be productive.

My point is: be kind to yourself. If you get up in the morning and don’t feel like writing, don’t beat yourself up. There may be a good biorhythmic reason.

Be sensitive to yourself. Pay attention to when you “feel like writing” and “when you feel dreamy.” If you are strongly aware of the times when you feel dreamy, then try sitting down to write 8 or 10 hours after the beginning of your dreamy time.

I call my dreamtime “the play of clouds in my head.” Here are the clouds outside my window this minute.

writing discipline

If you can harness your body’s natural biorhythm to your writing uptime/downtime, you’re more likely to establish a strong writing discipline.

Writing Discipline Tip #2: Know Your Sticks

You have to create sticks.

There are times when I’m confronted with a writing project and I simply don’t feel like writing. I will actually formulate to myself, “Okay, this is one of those times you have to beat it out of yourself.”

What did I just say about not beating yourself up?

Sure, be nice to yourself but not too nice. Sometimes filling the blank page is a bitch, and you have to wrestle her to the ground. The process is not always pretty.

Good news: the metaphoric stick doesn’t have to be punitive.

A local writer I know has organized a Shut Up And Write! session for three hours every Friday afternoon at a coffee place. The idea is that writers come together not to share and critique work but to use this time to write. The presence of other writers writing is her stick, which in this case I’ll call a gentle prod.

I went to ShutUp And Write! once, just to see what would happen. Other writers writing distracted me rather than focused me. The other writers there experienced the opposite effect.

For many writers a critique group acts as the stick/prod to get them to write. For them, because they’re responsible to a group, they’re more likely to produce their pages. Makes sense. I’m just not one of them.

Know your sticks.

Writing Discipline Tip #3: Know Your Carrots

Here’s my carrot: I love the rewriting process, truly love it.

I’m willing to beat a writing project out of me when I’m in no mood to write because I know I’ll love what happens next. I’ll get to play with, move around, delete and/or add to whatever I managed to get on the page.

Lately I’ve been revising some existing work, because I’ve found a wonderful editor and have asked her to review (already edited!) stories I’ve done in the past few years. She wrote me a 7-page critique of my Regency romance Lord Blackwell’s Rude Awakening. Because of her suggestions I added 80% new material to it.

Here are my chapter-by-chapter notes. The chapters marked orange are completely new. The ones with squares next to them are heavily revised. No chapter was left untouched.

writing discipline

As you see, I work messy. I like the finished product to be seamless but getting there is not.

It was an unexpected pleasure to return to this story. I felt like a gardener looking for seeds that hadn’t yet bloomed after which I created new scenes in which they could flower.

What do you find most pleasurable in the creative process? Whatever it is, maximize it.

Writing Discipline Tip #4: Don’t Judge

Your job is to write, not to judge what you write. Of course you always want to write from the top of your intelligence and the best of your ability. But you also need to give yourself permission to have false starts, compose sentences that aren’t right the first time, misplot, mischaracterize, and make every other writing mistake in the world.

Write, just write. If it comes out ugly, you can always revise. 

You will be more likely to establish writing discipline if you don’t hamstring yourself by demanding that everything you write is perfect the moment it appears on the page.

Writing Discipline #5: Do Yourself a Favor

If you are in a negative relationship with yourself about not writing, you are by definition a writer.

Think about it this way: I’m not in a negative relationship with myself about my lack of get-up-and-go to climb Mount Everest. I simply have no interest in doing so. Thus I’m not berating myself about it.

writing discipline

Mount Everest. Someone else can climb it, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve got other things to do.

I do care about whether or not I’m writing. If you care about whether or not you’re writing and are not writing, then do yourself a favor and write. Not writing is worse than writing, even if what you write is bad.

For more ideas, check out Scott Ginsberg

See: All My Writing Tips

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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