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Five Elements of Discipline

This lesson is a part of an audio course No More Writer's Block! by Marcia Yudkin

True or false: To become a prolific writer, you must learn to write fast.

It’s commonly believed that to become a more productive writer, you need the mental equivalent of a speed-up pill that allows you to race through your writing projects. In fact, productive writing does not necessarily involve writing faster.

If we divide writers into tortoises and hares, I’m a tortoise. I write relatively slowly. Throughout my first decade as a professional writer, I averaged two to three pages a day. Yet in that time, besides teaching writing and coaching individuals on their writing, I published four books, eleven audiotapes, more than a hundred magazine articles, eight short stories, and probably completed at least a third again more material that didn’t make its way into print. At some point during my second decade as a professional writer, I increased my output to three to four pages a day. But I would still have been able to meet deadlines and watch more published works pile up if that increase hadn’t happened.

Do the math: Just two pages a day in a year, 365 days, yields 730 pages, the equivalent of two or three books, hundreds of blog posts, or dozens of magazine articles. It’s the consistency that makes you prolific, not being fast. And how do you achieve that consistency?

  • You’re able to start (and finish) writing whether you feel ready or not
  • You make the best use of your time – and you may not need as much as you think
  • You understand how to recognize and channel energy and enthusiasm, and
  • You know enough about yourself to be able to fashion a creative process that’s uniquely suited to you

It’s that last factor that has offered the greatest surprise and delight to writers I’ve taught and coached. Most people assume that writing has to be done in some standard way, and this trips them up. A talented psychic once told me, “I really ought to write a book. People keep coming back to my classes because they love the way I present the material. But I just can’t see sitting down for so long and writing the thing.”

“Aha,” I said. “You don’t have to sit down to write it.”

“You don’t?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “You could write it standing up or walking around or even, most of it, while you’re teaching your classes.”

“Really?” She was excited.

Similarly, a consultant described to me a book she was determined to write. “As soon as I can clear out my schedule, I’m going to get started,” she said. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Are you the type of person who can only work on one project at a time, or do you habitually work on many things at once?”

She didn’t even have to think about it. “I’m very good at juggling projects,” she replied.

“So why are you assuming that the thing to do is to clear out your schedule?”

“Oh,” she said. “Hmm. You’re right. I can let the book be one of the many plates I have going in the air at once.”

The rest of this course will help you reexamine your expectations so you can keep those that are sound and discard the ones that are based on myths or fallacies about writing. My overarching principle here is that the secret of productive writing is striking a balance between discipline and inspiration. Discipline and inspiration.

If your writing process includes the only discipline, it’s not alive. It’s bound to be missing the magic it could have. If it includes only inspiration, however, the quantity of your writing is probably nowhere near what you’d like it to be.

With both discipline and inspiration, you’ll be able to leap beyond the apparent constraints of time and energy to stun your readers with works that showcase your unique mix of talents.

Ready? In the next lesson, we discuss the space and time elements of writing.

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Written by

Marcia Yudkin