Discipline or Obsession?

For every thousand people sending books to agents, hoping to be published, there are tens of thousands of people who WANT to write a book but can’t seem to finish one. There’s a lot of moaning about it on writers’ boards, some from the folks struggling to complete a manuscript, and some from people who have finished books and see the moaners as lazy. Now I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair way to view them—writing a book is a long, hard process and not all ideas are big enough to carry a novel-length work. God knows I’ve started dozens of stories that never made it past the 25k mark, because when I got there I realized I just didn’t have enough going on for it to go further. And not all writers who’ve written novels feel this way about those who haven’t. But one thing I do MOSTLY agree with is when someone says, to the people struggling to finish a novel, “Writing is hard. It takes dedication. Discipline. It means putting your butt in the chair, day after day, and just doing it.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love the creative process. There’s nothing quite as addictive as writing a first draft when the story is strong, and seeing an entire world come to life under your fingers. It’s heady stuff. But when things go slower, is it really discipline that gets us through or is it obsession? When I’m stuck in a story, or when I look at the page and the rhythm and flow just seems foreign (which does happen, sadly), is it some sense of responsibility and stick-to-it-ness that carries me through until it gets easy again? If so, you’d think it would carry over to other areas of life. But sad to say, that’s not necessarily true. Being a disciplined individual would mean I stay on top of the yard work, and go out Saturday after Saturday to get rid of the stupid prickly weeds taking over my flower beds. Discipline would mean that every night, right after dinner, I put all of the pans and plates in the dishwasher and turn it on. It would mean never deciding to watch Tosh.O when I should be doing laundry, and never letting my kid have Ho-Hos for breakfast because I haven’t had enough coffee to manage microwave oatmeal.

One of the formal definitions of discipline is “Behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control.” No one who’s ever been to my house on a weekday would accuse me of any kind of order being maintained, I promise. So for me, what makes it possible to finish not just one novel but more than one? In my case, I think it comes down to more obsession than anything else. I am obsessed with my fictional worlds. There’s no discipline involved.

I say this because when I step away from my writing to focus on day-to-day stuff, my brain refuses to let my stories go. Somewhere up in my head, I’m always thinking through scenes and plotlines. No matter what I do, or how hard I try, I can’t shut off that part of my brain. Until the story is finished, there’s no escaping it for me. And that’s what gets me back in front of the computer every single day, during every five minute chunk of free time I can find. I MUST write, because if I don’t I’ll be twirling it over in my head until I can’t think of anything else. And if that’s not the very definition of obsession, I don’t know what is.

So are you a writer who’s disciplined or obsessed? I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but for me, I’m not ashamed to say there’s no discipline involved. Obsession gets the work done, too, and I’m lucky enough to have a family that lets me feed that obsession.

8 thoughts on “Discipline or Obsession?”

  1. I had never thought about obsession before, but I still think discipline has a lot to do with it. It’s easy to day dream about your fictional worlds; I do that all the time. To be dedicated enough to write your stories, I think requires discipline. Good article.

    1. Hmm, writing goals I awalys have them 1) At least one e-book release (short story, novella, or novel) a month ~ right now I have things scheduled through May.2) Finish 6 stories in a new e-book series ~ I have one done.3) Write every day (I’m already lax on this one!). As long as I do 700+ words, I feel okay. If I do over 1500, I feel great!4) Finish one novel ~ I’m 11k into it so far, and I’d like to have it done by say June or so. Here’s hoping!

  2. Discipline! I think any idea can be novel-worthy with the proper planning and outlining :)

    1. What a riot… I loved your piece and yes, it should be a cbaleretion regardless of what inspires us to write. Motherhood is a gift and I must admit that when my kids were young, there was a time when I stopped writing… I was spent. Keep writing!Stopped by via MamaKat’s Writer’s Workshop.Happy Holidays!Elizabeth

  3. I’m with you on the obsession – I am in general not a very disciplined person, to my shame. So for me it is the same as it is for you, my story won’t let me go. Even when I’m not writing for a bit, like now due to exams, my story is alaways with me and I get antsy when I don’t write for an extended time.

      1. It’s hard, I have the same problem. I’ve staertd probably at least 20 novels over the years. Some made it to page 50 before I just couldn’t decide how to continue, others only to maybe around page 15. I think I just haven’t found the story that I want to tell yet. It’s in there, and I keep searching. I think of my false starts as progress, a way of digging to that story deep down. Plus, every page you write strengthens your ability to write, so I also look at them as lessons.

    1. Wow, for the second time the Tatooine song is in my head. It’s ptrety viral, I think. As to good things stemming from obsessions, I’m more inclined to disagree. There’s sooooo (not all the o’s in the world convey how many should be there) much crappy fan-fiction out there. People write Twilight fan fiction because they love Edward and their whole piece becomes an ode to that character. As a writer, we want to give readers a character that they can identify with and root for, but not be sickened by how they are portrayed.

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