Finding Will, Part 2: Self-Discipline

Tintagel, Cornwall. The stairs here are steep and many. My parents are the ones leaning on the rails and looking out to the bay below.

Is writing a practice or a spontaneous expression of emotion? Can you force yourself to write when you feel you cannot? In this post, we will address our own writing practices and how that affects our will to write.

For me, I’ve found writing is every bit as much a practice as well as a spontaneous expression of emotion. Writing is sometimes going at a topic with a sledgehammer until it bends to your will. It’s falling asleep listening to source material, audiobooks, and mediations. It’s also practicing. Practicing your craft as well as practicing how you go about your craft. For me, the more I’ve practiced writing, the less I have writer’s block.

Today, I will address another aspect of finding your way when you have writer’s block: self-discipline. Now, the world “discipline” can trigger some very negative emotions and reactions from a lot of people and with good reason primarily because “discipline” has been and still is often used as a mask for abuse. It was not always so. So, I think it’s time we took it back to the original language.

What are you doing when you practice self-discipline? Are you trying to stuff yourself into a bunch of petty rules or are you trying to help yourself be better?

You can look up the word discipline on any online dictionary and find any number of definitions for it. Nearly all of them have to do with control, rules, and enacting punishment for breaking those rules. At the end of those definitions, you will notice several italicized words. These are the word’s linguistic roots—or etymology. So, if we look up the Latin word from this definition, disciplina in a Latin dictionary, we find something very different from the word as we use it today.

When you do, you will find the primary meaning in Latin has NOTHING to do with controlling others’ behavior or with a set of rules. Instead, it refers to habit, instruction, training. This meaning is most closely present in modern language when we use the word disciple. It’s a subtle difference but a very important one when we think of how triggering the world “discipline” can be to some people.

If we go with the original Latin, discipline does not have nearly the same negative conations that it does now. The point is not to control another’s behavior, the point is to spread knowledge. Therefore, when you practice self-discipline, you are essentially practicing self-knowledge.

What does practicing self-discipline as a writer look like? Well, let me give you a few ways that have worked for me:

  1. Set aside a time in which to write. Commit to writing for at least a specific length of time every day and then stick to it. If it works better for you to schedule it into a specific time frame, then do so. This is one of the most common pieces of advice out there, but it truly does work, even if you don’t write a specific time every day.
  2. Having, as your daily practice, a 10 minute “freewriting” session. Find a quote that inspires you (there are several blogs on Word Press that can help you with this) and write about it for ten minutes. This is a practice I learned in college, and it was enormously helpful and has been one of the few ways I’ve been able to keep up my writing over the years. Sometimes, my only prompt is a random thought. It’s a little like journaling, but more intense.
  3. Practice your intentions, gratitude, and affirmations, as per my previous post. I will scream this from the rooftops until I’m hoarse: IT DOES WORK!!!! Seriously. I thought it was all a load of nonsense until I actually did it. Practicing gratitude and setting intentions does more than raise the quality of your self-talk, it helps you become more self-disciplined in the process because it gives you a positive feedback loop so you end up wanting to do it again.
  4. Keep a notebook close to hand, a tablet, even your phone and when inspiration does strike you, go for it. I have done this and I’m currently writing my own trilogy of novels based upon the past four years of snippets I’ve written.
  5. Move. Go for a walk in your neighborhood, spend a few minutes people-watching, or take yourself on a solo trip somewhere. I can almost guarantee that it will get your creative juices flowing. Why? You aren’t focusing on your lack of inspiration; you are focusing on the world around you. Go sit in a café one day and casually observe the people around you. Figure out their stories, their motivations, and their hopes and dreams.

Each one of these practices has taught me something about myself both as a person and as a writer. Primarily, it shows me that I am far more creative than I think myself. It also tells me a lot about what inspires me, motivates me, and what my own writing style tends to be. I haven’t always been diligent about practicing these methods, but I do know they work for me very well. In fact, the 10-minute “free-write” is probably one of the few ways I’ve been able to keep writing in some degree even when I was in the depths of my depression.

Full Disclosure: self-discipline can seem impossible if you suffer from mental illness. I know that all too well myself. However, I would highly, highly recommend you try. Just try one tiny little thing that makes you feel like you are in a better place mentally whether that’s journaling, meditation, yoga, prayer, walking, or listening to your favorite podcast. I resisted self-discipline for years until I started looking at it differently. I looked at it not as a way of controlling myself, but of making promises to perform a daily task—daily, mind.

The first promise I made to myself was to do my daily practice: 3 intentions, 10 things for which I’m grateful, 3 affirmations. It’s now a habit—a discipline. Next, I committed to daily observing my thoughts, rooting out negatives, replacing them with positives. That too is successful, and it is becoming a discipline. See? No punishment, no mind control, no retribution. On Monday’s post, I’ll go into what happens when you do let yourself down because that is the final piece of the puzzle in finding your will to write.

Self-Discipline is creating a bond with your very essence and learning how to be your best as a writer.

Whatever your starting point, make sure it is something which will be good for your long-term mindset. This does not mean promising yourself a shoe shopping spree every weekend, as tempting as that is for all of the ladies out there. The point is to know yourself and to be your best self—not to put a band-aid on whatever it is you need to work on. That may work in a moment of crisis and retail therapy can be a good thing once in a while, but it’s not a cure-all.

What are you doing when you practice self-discipline? Are you trying to stuff yourself into a bunch of petty rules or are you trying to help yourself be better? If your answer is the former, then you are going to lose control at some point—we all do. Also, if you suffer from mental health problems, you CANNOT always control yourself—the disease itself will not let you. The world will not let you. Your mental illness will not always look the same from attack to attack. In my case, it took me a while to even be able to tell when an attack was coming.

If, however, you are using self-discipline to teach yourself, to increase knowledge about yourself and to ultimately put that knowledge into practice, then you will have successfully practiced self-discipline. Part of the answer is knowing who you are, how you react, and then going from there. Discipline is not a matter of punishment, and it’s not a matter of adhering to another person’s definition of how to be or what to do. Discipline is learning and growing into your own skills, your own writing style, you own written voice. Self-Discipline is creating a bond with your very essence and learning how to be your best as a writer.


2 thoughts on “Finding Will, Part 2: Self-Discipline

  1. Great post and tips. Wonderfully comprehensive too! I myself believe there are two modes to writing, and I do both write from emotion as well as self-discipline. Though I have to admit, I do more of the latter. Writing is rarely ever ‘muse-powered’ for me. Anyway, thanks for this post!


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