Developing a Discipline of Writing

Photo credit: Michael Sheehan, found here, no alterations

In the 1993 movie Jurassic Park, there is a scene where the characters are getting a tour of the park. Dr. Grant is immediately concerned when he discovers that velociraptors are being bred. The group then goes to see the raptor enclosure, where we have the following conversation between Dr. Grant and Robert Muldoon, the park’s game warden.

Dr. Alan Grant : Do they show intelligence? With their brain cavity…

Muldoon : They show extreme intelligence, even problem-solving intelligence. Especially the big one. We bred eight originally, but when she came in she took over the pride and killed all but two of the others. That one… when she looks at you, you can see she’s working things out. That’s why we have to feed them like this. She had them all attacking the fences when the feeders came.

Dr. Ellie Sattler : But the fences are electrified though, right?

Muldoon : That’s right, but they never attack the same place twice. They were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically. They remember.

I have used this illustration on a number of occasions, specifically related to raising children (because, let’s face it, they are a lot like raptors — testing the fences… but usually more than once in the same spot), but more importantly, for today’s purposes, it has to do with developing boundaries in one’s life. When you begin to set up boundaries for yourself, that is when you start to develop discipline.

One of the things that I have missed in previous blogging attempts has been a discipline of writing. I did not give myself good boundaries for writing. I was roaming the wilderness, not knowing where I was nor where I was going. I have not set myself up for success in blogging (which, for me, is defined as sticking with it and writing on a regular basis — you need to define success for yourself in this context) in the past because I have not been consistent with my writing. I would write when inspiration struck, but that is like trying to hold onto the wind.

Inspiration doesn’t come on it’s own. It isn’t one of the nines muses of Greek mythology, who descend upon us and cause us to create great things. Inspiration comes with discipline.

One of my goals is to develop a discipline of writing. Over and over again, the biggest piece of advice that I have seen to writers is that you need to be writing. Now, I realize that seems like the simplest, most bizarre piece of advice. It’s like telling a basketball player to play basketball if he/she wants to become better.

In every area of life, we know that in order to get better at something, we have to do it over and over again. But, for some reason, when it comes to writing, we think that there is some special trick, some other path that we need to take in order to make it happen. Why? Why is writing different from any other activity that we could choose?

The truth of the matter is… it’s not. If you want to become a writer, if you want to get better at writing… then you have to write. I think we have a psychological block that is preventing us from doing the very thing that we say we want to do.

You don’t find your voice and then start writing. You find your voice as you are writing.

So, my first goal: develop a daily discipline of writing.

Hope is not a strategy.

That phrase has been uttered, written or communicated in a variety of contexts in the last couple of decades. Some say it goes back to football coach Vince Lombardi; others attribute it to a business book written in the early 2000’s; still others have quoted it in regards to the national political scene. Honestly, I don’t care who said it. It’s a good reminder.

I can hope to write all I want, but if I don’t actually put… well… fingers to keyboard, then it doesn’t matter how much I want to write. But writing isn’t all about the rough drafts either. It’s about putting your work out in the ether for the world to see. Sure, do quality work, revise, edit, delete, start over, whatever. But, eventually, you need to hit the publish button. This is where another of my goals comes into play.

Typically, it’s said that you need to have SMART goals. That is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. So, perhaps this is the Measurable part of my newfound blogging goals.

My second goal: publish three times each week.

A lot of my focus when I have been writing in the past has been to publish something… eventually. And, that’s what I did. I would publish something… eventually. Until “eventually” became “rarely,” and “rarely” became “not at all.”

Early on especially, I know my perfectionist tendencies are going to have me spending more time on posts than may be necessary. Eventually, I simply need to get over the quality hump and start looking to quantity. Now, that sounds terrible, doesn’t it. As a recovering perfectionist who still has perfectionist tendencies, I’m horrified that I even wrote that sentence. I want to delete it. But I won’t. Why?

Quantity has a better chance of producing quality than focusing on quality alone. This goes back to the idea of practice. Do you know why a professional hitter can hit the ball so well? Because he practices it. Baseball players spend hours upon hours studying film, working on mechanics and hitting in the batting cage. They are good at what they do, and they still practice a lot so they can be even better.

Pic downloaded from Pixabay.com

The last part of my new strategy for developing a discipline of writing has to do with capturing ideas. The world is full of stories that can be told. My life, your life, every single person you come across has a story to share. The problem is that we just don’t know how to do it all that well. We forget the stories that we can share and think we don’t have any at all. That is simply untrue.

I was listening to the Art of Manliness podcast last week (don’t judge me, it’s really good!), and the guest was Matthew Dicks (listen to it here). He was talking about storytelling. It was a fantastic listen. In fact, I stopped listening to it until I got home so I could sit at my kitchen table and take notes. That’s right, I’m a nerd. Shut up and keep reading.

One of the things that Dicks does is talk about something he calls “Homework for Life.” I have taken his suggestion and started doing it myself. In time, I’m sure this will generate stories because it raises my awareness of what is going on around me. Life is full of stories, we just need to capture them.

And that is my final goal: develop a system to capture life moments so that I can develop them, learn from them, and share them down the road

Right now, it is taking shape through a Google Sheets file for my Homework for Life, as well as expanding my use of Evernote as a place to capture and begin to develop these stories to share down the road.

So, there you have it: three goals as I restart my blogging journey:

  • develop a daily discipline of writing
  • publish something three times each week
  • develop a system to capture life moments so that I can develop them, learn from them, and share them down the road

I know a lot of times in life we hear about something being a “discipline” and we feel it is restrictive. It morphs into an obligation, something that has to be done. But, the reality of the situation is, we all need boundaries. We all need disciplines. Boundaries are what keep us safe, and give us the creative space to do what needs to be done. Disciplines are just intentional habits that shape who we are.

Developing a discipline of writing (or, really, anything) is about setting up boundaries in your life so that you have the freedom to accomplish the goals that you have set for yourself.

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Matt Swisher

Matt Swisher

Just some guy who is looking to make my pocket of the world a better place. Life is a journey; let’s walk together and help each other along the way.