Developing habits happen the same way we develop memory in a muscle. Muscles need to be trained repeatedly in order for them to perform in a way that is ‘second nature’ and likewise, habits can be cultivated through repetition. It’s about small incremental actions. Hundreds of micro actions, all leading toward something; a habit that becomes established and part of our being. Habits then appear instinctual, and like they are part of ones ‘way’. A bodybuilder will train – slowly, repeatedly and he will push the boundaries every now and then. Sometimes the training can feel like a real graft… it doesn’t feel fun, it feels hard and even hopeless. Is this when he should pause and reflect? Or dig deep and find purpose?
Writing is a discipline and a lot of people don’t like that word – because it comes from our parents and our school teachers who are our tyrants. Nonsense! The word comes from the biblical Disciple who was studious, committed and demonstrated great attention and focus during the challenging times when others flee. If it is authoritarian in the minds eye, try to make the shift as to discipline the self with routine and commitment is an essential prerequisite in the creation of anything significant, lasting and satisfying. The two principle or foundational qualities are patience and practise.
There is also a myth that discipline and a commitment to something is not rewarding or pleasurable but ‘moments of great intensity’ in fact are experienced only when we engage in discipline and then achieve as if by co-incidence – a flow state; compared with an artificial moment of intensity which is what Freud called the pleasure principle.
A discipline can be ones friend if they make it this way in the mind. To be disciplined in a balanced way will bring cohesion and order into a chaotic day or week. To wake up at the same time and to eat breakfast at the same time and to write for two hours each day during the same period is a discipline and it is needed for the health and sanity of a person trying to write a book or be an author. Just as a samurai would practise calligraphy or shūji at the same time each morning, we can sit with pen and inkwell at the same time with the same goal each day.
If studying to achieve a black belt in a martial art, a person will need to discipline themselves to schedule in the training, they will need to attend class and be engaged when in attendance, and they will need to focus during training regimes, and key exercises will need to be repeated again and again. Writing is no different. One must schedule in the writing slot, attend, and then focus during the work. Because we are only able to sustain the ‘exercise’ for a period of time (there is a finite amount of will-energy in the tank), it is recommended that the discipline is pushed for a period of two hours.
We have discussed in earlier blogs how writing is medicinal and a healing therapy. It is cathartic, mentally engaging, it orientates the self more accurately, it is a positive outlet for anger and rage, and it is magical in that an author can alchemise destructive negative psycho energies into characters with genuine fears and motives. Perhaps if Hitler had had creative guidance and support, and somehow disciplined himself away from the desire to control through politics and he alchemised his negative psycho energies into craft forms, he could have produced useful stuffs. Instead he allowed himself to loose control. His negative psycho energies were thus channelled into an innocent outlet and he became maniacal, unable to control his own way.
The writing desk is a safe place to be and most rewarding of all… a person doesn’t need to be ‘good’ at it. In fact, they need to be prepared to write badly and they need to allow themselves this joy if their own self is going to express itself. Like martial artists, writers need to be brave and find courage and to be vulnerable and all of these requirements build strength and resilience into the self. Or, much like the way bodybuilders add layers of muscle to their physiques, writing is the same – adding layers of strength to the character as it becomes more grounded in knowledge and wise in the world, less arrogant and more gentle. Think of these muscles that athletes add as shields of armour… to build them, we must discipline ourselves to find two hours daily where we are prepared to wrestle it out, not in the gym or dojo but on the page.
It helps to establish a goal. It is good to know what you are aiming at. Like Bruce Lee said, ‘A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves simply as something to aim at’. With this profound wisdom in mind, find something to aim ‘at’. The goal should be realistic but also difficult. Make it purposeful. In the same way a bodybuilder will aim to bench press ten kilos more this year, it may not be a failure if he only gets to nine. He may not have hit his target, but he has not failed.
Here are some examples of healthy and achievable writing targets:
- I will write 1000 words a day 6 days a week for 80 days (a first draft)
- I will get everything in position to start the new year with the intention of writing a book. I will finish the polished draft by the end of 2019
- I will write 2000 words 5 days a week by 11 am. I will allow the story to emerge as I ‘uncover the fossil’
- I will read one book a week for the next twelve months (this averages to be 20 pages in the morning, and 20 in the evening)
- I will finish my outline for a novel or story by the end of 2019 to begin writing the first draft in 2020
Gym Rules #1) You don’t need to have a project that you are working on. This is not essential as stream of consciousness writing is better than ‘waiting’ for the right project to come along. However, presuming you aren’t yet completely discipled and have not yet mastered the habit of daily writing, it would be best to have a project and a target. Like for example, to start and complete a comedy novel within three months, or those mentioned above. With a set goal, you know what project you are working on and now you just need to locate and schedule in your slot. Then you need to turn up at the page.
Gym Rules #2) Keep silent. You don’t need to ‘explain’ what you are doing to anyone. It’s none of their business and because you aren’t entirely sure yourself, you’re not going to be able to articulate anything to anyone you live with, especially because you’re writing will trigger unsettling feelings within them about their own un-finished creative business.
The more you attend, and the more regular, daily focused sessions you have, the easier the process will become. Lifting weights is incredibly difficult and uncomfortable to get back into. The key is in not stopping. When we stop lifting and training the muscles, they become settled and comfortable. To get going again, it is uncomfortable, and therefore easier to quit. Discipline the self, and commit time in the diary for writing. Master the art of procrastination by working on a project that is meaningful to you and write each day. Scrap all projects that hold no meaning and if they are just ‘money jobs’, finish them off and allow them to be your last (or slow down and fade out that which is no longer serving). If you write 1000 words a day, at the end of a three month focused work session, you will have a 90,000 word first draft manuscript. Like a bodybuilder, you have put the mass on. Now it is time to tone and chisel.
This experience of discipline and writing a first draft book in three months is empowering. I have performed this as an exercise many times, and have experienced life changing levels of self belief as a result, less due to the quality of the work and more due to the process of cultivating discipline. The authentic and the disciplined ones among us appear somehow to walk with a forcefield that surrounds them. They seem harder to penetrate and imbalance. These people I have learnt are discipled and this strong way of discipline can be cultivated through the art and craft of writing words. Furthermore, writing as an exercise is particularly affective in locking in this confident way due simply to the brain power it is harnessing.
Stephen Fry said that language holds a much greater and important totality than just a method of communication. Instead, it actually has the ability to evolve us as a species. Not that we may have realised, as it comes so naturally to us but this ‘extraordinarily sophisticated system of communication… uses more brain processing than any single other thing we do,’ he states on Planet Word, ‘whether it is music or art or chess or mathematics or any other high functioning, high cognitive operation, language is the thing that uses most.’ Learning to work with language and write is therefore fundamental to health and well-being.
Engage in the healthy discipline of writing daily and working on a project that is meaningful. Cultivate discipline by committing to this from a set date and dedicate two hours daily to the process with the aim of writing 2000 words at each session. Remove the pressure of it being something specific and allow what it is to manifest co-incidentally. Stick to plan and commit to the programme. It’s not about it being anything like a bestseller, it’s about you engaging in the doing to bring about the habit.
For more information on reasons to write a book or your own memoirs, read 10 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Memoirs and Follow us below for weekly e-mails on why Writing Is Medicine.