Just a heads up, this article is not going to earn any awards for niceties. It’s going to get real, and a bit harsh. Why? Because when it comes to creating, you need discipline more than you need hand-holding. Gentle nudging can maybe encourage you to a brief period of dedication, or to fulfilling a small goal or two. You’re not here for that, though. You’re in this for the long haul. You want to write, to create worlds and characters and stories for the rest of your life.
Guess what? You’ve chosen a tough fucking life and you better get used to the concept that nobody really gives two shits or not if you succeed at this, except you. Encouragement and pithy phrases and gentle nudges are not going to make you stop procrastinating, or just finish that draft, or edit that damn story. Only one thing is going to triumph over the slumps, bumps, depressive states, periods of creative self-hate, and discouragement coming from internal and external voices. Only one thing is going to prove you a writer (or creator) of mettle over time. Only one thing is ever going to truly be the cause of your Getting Shit Done.
You can have all the great ideas, incredible characters, and mind-blowing stories to tell in the world, but none of them will ever amount to anything if you lack discipline.
You need discipline more than inspiration, more than creativity, more than connections, more than adoring readers. Without discipline, you might as well chuck it all in now.
This doesn’t mean you won’t have days or times when your discipline breaks down. Life happens to everyone. However, what’s going to keep you in the game is getting back your focus and retraining yourself as soon as possible, and sticking to it. Also, don’t beat yourself up about slipping out of your routine on occasion. Acknowledge it; see if there’s anything you can adapt or change your schedule to make it work better, and move on.
So how do you discipline yourself?
Well, the plain truth is only you can ascertain what works best for you. There’s a list of links at the end of methods you can try, but it’s going to take your personal energy, focus, dedication, and trial-and-error methods to figure out what works best for you personally. You may find one of these is ace, you may have to do a combination of several, or you may have to come up with something entirely unique. Point is, only you know yourself the best and only you can create the best method of disciplining yourself.
"But won’t a routine get… you know, boring?" Well, yes. It will. Sometimes it will feel like (holy crap) actual work to make progress and stick to your routine. Sometimes it will feel like an insurmountable mountain climb, far more daunting than just another day at the office. And sometimes it’ll feel like your brain just shuts down the minute you’re presented with a blank screen or piece of paper. That sucks.
Deal with it.
Stick to the routine and keep writing.
Can’t write? Like, really, truly, cannot find it within yourself to put words down and/or are too ill to do it?
If you can’t find the will, take a day off. Do something else that is still productive, but not writing. Try some editing of an earlier piece. Draw a picture. Do some research for your project. Do something that engages your writer’s mind but doesn’t require writing. Just don’t make a habit of using your writing time for this. This is the rare exception to what should be an everyday rule.
If you’re sick, you’re sick. Rest up. Get better. Take care of your body. But as soon as that fever breaks or those aches ease up a bit or you can last an hour without sneezing and/or puking constantly or that depression fog begins to ease off, start your writing routine again.
You can ask for nudges and reminders from friends, colleagues, family, significant others, etc, but don’t depend on them to provide your discipline. You are in charge of making your life work. You. Only you. And in case you missed it earlier, nobody really gives two shits or not if you succeed at this, except you.
If this is what you truly want, to become a creative person (writer, artist, performer, etc), you have to not only take control of your own voice and your own projects, but you have to be invested with them 100% every single day of your life. We all slip up, and life intervenes from time to time, but without constantly training and retraining yourself to be disciplined in your craft, the likelihood of this becoming your way of life is very minimal — and your chances of succeeding if you are disciplined and dedicated are quite good.
So how do you go about disciplining yourself and starting a routine? Again, there’s probably going to be a lot of trial and error to find what works for you, and it likely will change over time as well, but here’s some ideas:
Finding Time to Write
Setting Up a Schedule Based on Professional Writers’ Techniques
Writing Routines of Famous Authors
Resources for maintaining a schedule/daily word count:
Creating Your Own Schedule
There are a lot of other articles with info on how individuals created and maintained their own schedules if you go looking, but it all basically comes down to the simple idea that you have to find what works for you, and stick with it.
I know this article has been rather blunt, but the honest truth stands that no one is ever going to be more invested or dedicated to your work than you are, and without the discipline in place to get you through hard times and rough patches and even everyday distractions, little is ever likely to come from just writing or creating when you ‘have the time’ or ‘feel inspired.’ It’s dedication and discipline that will get you where you want to go. So, give yourself a pep talk (and maybe even a mild panic episode about what you’re about to undertake), suck it up, and start dedicating yourself to being a writer/creator. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.