Monday, December 01, 2008

Discipline

If you're a writer, there are many hurdles to overcome.

You have to commit to writing whenever you can, and then bludgeoning that prose into the best it can be.

Then you have to diligently search for an agent, and for a publisher (or several agents and publishers, as few writers stick with one.)

You must seek out new markets while maintaining relationships with old ones.

You have to keep in touch with the public through online social networks and face-to-face.

You must battle criticism, self-doubt, and apathy, and stay current with industry happenings.

And all the while, your only true boss is you.

So unless you have a great deal of self-control and determination, you will undoubtedly slack off once and a while.

A few weeks probably won't hurt. A few months won't help. A year or longer and you'll be rebuilding your career from the ground up.

Not an easy task for writers. There are so many failures for so few successes, and not many ways to truly measure the impact of your efforts. This means that success or failure is largely arbitrary, based on your personal goals, And those goals can change. This can result in lesser efforts, which almost always yield lesser results.

So how do you maintain the discipline required to succeed? Especially when success seems so elusive?

1. Set Goals. The only goals worth setting are those you have control over. Getting published or becoming a bestseller are not goals. Those are dreams. Goals are sending out ten queries in December and writing five pages a day. These are doable, and the first step to keeping on track.

2. Make Time. All the goals in the world won't mean anything unless your prioritize them. That will probably mean sacrificing other things to devote yourself to your goals.

3. Regiment. Any long-term goal requires determination, implementation, and repetition. We don't have to force ourselves to do things we love. And while we may love some aspects of writing, there are certainly things we don't enjoy. You are your own boss, and your boss has to be a hard-ass.

4. Reward. The more realistic goals you make and shoot for, the more productive you'll become. When you do reach a goal, celebrate by rewarding yourself. It might be with something simple, like a cup of coffee when you finish two pages, or something big, like a trip to Paris when you finish the book. But all work and no play is a sure way to burn out.

5. Heal. You'll have setbacks, guaranteed. And these setbacks may make you want to ditch your goals, your regimen, and the whole silly business. There are many ways to overcome adversity, such as ignoring it, working through it, commiserating with friends, mourning, reflecting, and reinventing yourself. But, ultimately, the only thing that heals wounds is time, so forgive yourself if it takes a while to get back on the horse. And if you never do get back on, this wasn't the career for you in the first place.

If you choose to write (or if writing chose you) then you have to be relentless in the pursuit of your goals. If you settle for less, your expectations will be met. Demand more from yourself.

The winners are the ones who never gave up. Be a winner.

Now get back to work.