It is my honor to welcome a phenomenal writer, friend, and all around great guy to guest blog today. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…
want to write, but I can’t. I woke up, showered, dressed, went straight to the
office, fired up the Mac, and then nothing.
in place, everything’s in order, all systems go.
the words won’t come.
you, this is not writer’s block. First, I don’t believe in writer’s block, but
secondly, that thing people call writer’s block is when you’re actively inside
your story, trying to come up with the next scene, or next line of dialogue, or
the denouement, and you’re stuck.
block is NOT sitting in front of your keyboard and doing nothing.
haven’t even opened my screenwriting program.
yeah. By the way, I’m a screenwriter. Television. I’m supposed to be writing a
pilot (for a new one-hour drama series) for Sony Pictures Television.
I’m not. Because I can’t write.
Is that accurate? No. More like – I am not writing. I mean, it’s not like I’ve
lost feeling in my fingers, nor have I gouged my eyes out upon seeing Joe
Konrath and a canine from Berlin. No. I’m just not doing it.
am not writing.
wife thinks I’m writing. Or I should say working. Because I have made it very
clear to her that I’m working even when it appears I’m not.
will take Burton Rascoe’s quote to my grave. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s
basically, “What no spouse of a writer will ever understand is that when the
writer is sitting, staring out the window, he or she is actually working.”
I’m not working. I’m not staring out the window. I’m staring at this very nice
fifteen inch screen.
am not writing.
is it that causes this? Why do some writers not write? I’m sure there’s dozens,
if not hundreds of theories. No, probably just dozens. But most of them are
excuses created by non-writing writers to feel better about themselves.
am not writing for one reason. I am not disciplined.
The single greatest asset a writer can own. Better than talent, better than
imagination, better than anything.
you have discipline, you are light-years ahead of anyone trying to write
without discipline. It is no coincidence that the best writers I know – both
prose and screen – are also some of the most disciplined.
it’s no coincidence that the majority of people I know who have yet to taste
any real success as a writer lack discipline. And most of them don’t even know
Stephen J. Cannell, of TV and multiple novels, is disciplined. Up at 4:30am
EVERY day, works out for an hour to an hour, showers, eats and WRITES. Every
Turner, one of the “hottest” screenwriters working in Hollywood, is up at
3:57am every day. Yes, 3:57. Like the gun. He writes for ninety minutes, then
works out for an hour, then back to the keyboard. Every day.
Pearson, Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly, John Grisham. Disciplined. I was going
to write “extremely disciplined,” but realized that is wrong. There are no
levels of discipline. You are or you aren’t. It is black and white, despite
what your ego may be telling you.
it’s not simply sitting in front of the keyboard every day. I do that and I
have the discipline of a six-week-old Irish Setter. It’s getting up at the same
time every day, and doing the same thing every day. A job. Sometimes I’m at my
keyboard at seven, sometimes eighty-thirty (like today), or sometimes nine or
even ten. If I did that at a regular job, I’d be fired.
should fire myself.
I were disciplined, I would have already finished that novel I’ve been
blathering about for three years. Three years. How embarrassing. If I were disciplined,
I would have finished the two film scripts I’ve “started.”
I am is lucky. Very lucky. To have made a reasonable success of myself without
discipline. Sure it can be done, but it will always bite you in that writer’s
ass you’re sitting on.
ass is being bitten right now. And not in a good way. My lack of discipline is
not only keeping me from writing today, but its domino effect on my entire
process is awful. Because my deadline doesn’t care. It continues toward me.
Like a freight train. And losing one day of writing means that when I do turn
in my pilot, it will not be as good as it could be. Because I lost roughly six
or seven hours that could have, most likely would have, been spent making the
this isn’t the first day I have not written. Because I lack discipline, this is
one of many, many days in my writing career that have been spent not writing.
Not staring out the window working, those days count as writing days. I mean
simply not doing anything.
hurt myself. I hurt my family. By not being disciplined. So, I’m trying to fix
it. Right now. This very second.
I’m writing this because, one, I love JT and would do anything for her. But
also because I’m trying to jumpstart myself. Get my bitten ass in gear. Because
writing something, anything, is better than not writing.
urge any of you reading this, pros or amateurs, to get disciplined. Force
yourself to learn discipline. Do whatever it takes. I’m trying. Believe it or
not, I am much more disciplined now than I have ever been.
writing more now than ever. This year I’ve written four short stories. Not just
bullshit stuff – they’ll all be published – two online, two in anthologies. I
also wrote the first draft of this pilot, and five drafts of the outline.
Freaking. Drafts. Of an outline.
Those of you that deal only with editors and publishers – trust me, when you
hit your knees tonight, thank your God that you don’t have to endure the seed
of Satan known as the studio executive. But that’s for another post, another
for six and half months, that ain’t bad body of work. For me, that is. For
Connelly or Cannell, it’s about a week’s work.
the stream-of-consciousness of this post. But as stated, I’m trying to work
through some heavy shit, people.
– right this very second – are getting a look inside the mind of a professional
writer. Not necessarily a very good one, but someone who gets paid lots of
dough for putting words to paper. And it’s a mess, isn’t it? If I knew you were
coming, I would have picked up a little.
yes, right now, you are in my mind, as I try and write my way out of this pit.
I literally have no idea what the next sentence will be – I’m just writing, so
as to keep from not writing. Because if you’re not writing what you should be,
then write something. Don’t check email, don’t read blogs, don’t download
Filipino bird porn. . . write. Anything.
have no idea how long this post will be. JT may find it so boring that she
edits sixty percent of it, and you may not even be reading this sentence right
now. But a writer is like a shark – if we stop moving, we drown.
must keep typing. It’s all muscle memory, like working out or anything else.
If, IF, you get disciplined enough where you write, not just every day, but AT
THE SAME TIME EVERY DAY, then it comes much easier. A disciplined writer does
not encounter days like I’m having. If you think you’re disciplined, but still
have days where you don’t write – guess what? You ain’t disciplined.
to be a good, successful writer? Do this:
Learn how to write. Meaning, learn all the rules of writing – so you will be
able to intelligently break them later.
Get disciplined. I have no idea if this can be learned or not. I’m inching my
way there, year by year. If I do learn discipline, I will let you know it can
unfortunately, I know there are some of you out there who only care about the
“successful” part, and not the “good” part. Well, you’re in luck. As the
shelves at Barnes & Noble can attest, you don’t have to be good to be
you do have to be disciplined. So, for you folks, skip the learning how to
write part, and just get disciplined.
almost had it. There was a pause of maybe thirty seconds or so between that
last sentence and “Oh.” I was almost out of it, almost ready to open my
it didn’t happen.
still here. You better put a pot of coffee on, grab your fuzzy slippers, and
order some kung pao, cuz we may be here a while. Let’s check back in with my
now I’m actively trying to think about my pilot. Even as I type this. I’m
thinking about my characters and where I left them. Thinking about what comes
next for them. If I can get my head inside their heads, I’ll be good to go.
of you who know me may be wondering where my music is in all this. Why not
crank the pilot’s playlist on your iPod and go? Yeah, well, I haven’t. Not one
note so far today. Why? Because I’m not disciplined. If I were, I would sat
down, opened up iTunes, and started writing.
I didn’t. I couldn’t do anything associated with writing this morning. Or, I
should say, I chose not to do anything. Like turn my music on.
I’m going to try it. After this sentence I will go and open my iTunes.
there. Bad Company by Bad Company is
playing now. The working title for my pilot is BAD COMPANY. Let me know what
you think of that title – because the studio execs hate it. Are they correct?
I’m too close to tell.
right, I’m just about where I need to be. Take heart – this is almost over. I
can feel it. If you’re thinking I should have put the music on hours ago, well,
like I said, lack of discipline.
and I can’t deny. . . Bad Company, till
the day I die. . . till the day I die.
for hanging with me through this. Thanks to JT and all at Murderati.
disciplined, people. It will make your lives much easier. Trust me.
Hah. No matter how many times I hear this story from another writer (not ever so eloquently as this, of course…!) the relief is always the same. Massive. I’m not the only one.
Thanks for the reminder that all this internal hell is just part of the job – and that that D word is the antidote.
Also, the seed of Satan thing? Seconded.
Ah, damn. I’m not disciplined either. I’ve done 150 invoices for articles and book reviews and signed a 2-book contract this year, but I’m reading this f-ing blog and checking out the girl of the day on Maxim online and reading an article on MSN.com about weight loss…
Hey, about that. Read an article on MSN.com yesterday about 24 tips to a happy marriage or something like that, and one was something along the lines of: Even when you don’t want to have sex with your spouse, have sex anyway. (Men like that one). The point being, uh, desire follows arousal, I believe is how the writer put it. In other words, you can train yourself to want sex. (Yeah, like we men need this training).
Oh, you’re waiting for me to tie that in to sitting down and writing? I kind of liked it the way it was. Oh…
Show up at your damned computer at the same time and eventually you’ll write something. Once you get off Maxim online.
As the publisher of one of those stories online (current issue of http://www.demolitionmag.com) I can attest to the fact that it is not bullshit, but very fine writing. I’m struggling with the discipline issue too, and like Alexandra I’m always happy to hear others suffer from it too. But I really appreciate hearing that you are trying to overcome the lack of discipline even though it’s hard.
You don’t rely on the stereotype of the flaky lazy writer. You may not always be as disciplined as you want to be but as long as you’re trying, that’s something.
Paul, thank you so much for sharing these issues and thoughts with us. It’s vital for young writers to know that they aren’t alone — that they need to be very serious when they adopt a writing career and treat it with as much respect as a job where someone else is dictating your actions. I should probably fire myself too for showing up late.I try so hard to achieve that nirvana of discipline, but don’t succeed as much as I’d like. I have managed to stick to my 1,000 word a day goal over the past ten days, have broken the 30K mark and feel like the self imposed structure is making all the difference. Your essay came at the most opportune moment — an affirmation that this is the right course of action.Keep writing, everyone!!!And thanks again, Paul. This is great, and you can guest for me anytime!
Paul,Thank you so much for visiting Murderati today — for that excellent post. I hope you’re writing right now.
My life is so fractured–kids home from school for the summer, a million other excuses–it’s been difficult to put in the hours I’d want . . . but I do have discipline. I’m just scared to use it.
Years ago, I was so driven in my academic studies that I made myself very sick. I was taking a summer school intensive Chinese class–three hours of class time, then home for 1/2 hour lunch–study until 6 and take 1/2 for dinner and study until ten–then lights out and do it again. On weekends I allowed myself an hour break. Talk about obsessive.
After having to drop out of the class because of the extreme stress I’d put myself through, I got gun shy.
Now, reading your post, I realize that I have to find a way to be, um, moderately disciplined? Is that possible?
Again, thank you.
Goddamn, Guyot. I miss your blog. Great post.
I’m with Duane – I miss your blog, Guyot! And this article is why. You have no idea how many writers you kept pumped up. Uh, gosh-maybe that’s why I too am having a problem with discipline? I sure as hell can’t blame it on the heat wave. Oh, I know – I’ll blame it on a three month bout of tendonitis in my hand, and maybe the pneumonia I had. But no – I can only blame it -as Paul so brilliantly described – as not writing daily -not keeping the plot engaged -the rhythm going. Not being discipline.
Thanks, Guyot. We needed this. At least I did.
What I want to know about is this Guyot charisma at least two of the Murderati women have been raving about behind closed blog doors. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to experience it in person, I’m curious. Perhaps that can be bottled and sold, and you can wait on the discipline for a little bit longer.
Naomi? Curiosity can be dangerous. So is Guyot.
Think 007. Charm, slick, deadly funny…
With my weight, it’s more like 009….
Better than 014. Twice as good?
Awesome, Paul. Now quite reading the comments and go turn on your iTunes!
There is a secret to this discipline thing, and thanks to this article I read today in some screenwriting magazine (because I might write a screenplay when I grow up–but since I will probably never grow up, the world is safe) I now know what that secret is. The article was something about 36 steps to jumpstarting your career, and I’m thinking, yeah, I want to jumpstart my career (so it’s novel writing, not screenwriting, but I figure what is good for the goose…)so I read the article and one thing really hit home. Clean your desk. (Or something close to that.) It surmises that you can’t work in a messy office. You won’t be productive. I think that translates to you won’t be disciplined. So I immediately set about cleaning my desk. As soon as I get it cleaned, I’ll let you know if it jumpstarts anything. Way I figure it, I should be busy cleaning the damn desk for at least the next week or so, and then it’ll be time to find another stalling technique…
Robin, I laughed when I read this — every time I get stuck, I reorganize my office and come back the next day invigorated. There’s something to it…
Cleaning one’s desk or office is overrated. Really.
JT, I’m right there with ya with the gun shy. Had an email conversation with another writer this a.m. and she pointed out that what I used to write in the quantity I used to write it is considered heavy lifting by any professional. I have the discipline and can produce every day 365 – it’s out there somewhere dancing with balance and sleep, all cockamamie and startlesome. Bah.
I miss hearing you shout out about writing, my man, I wish your bog was back and active.
Good words and good advice, though I’d be willing to bet you’re more disciplined than most, I feel what you’re saying down to my bowels – I just wrote about this in a similar vein called FINGERS TO THE BONE – http://playwrightjoshuajames.com/dailydojo/?p=179
Keep up the fight, dude, I hope you crack the creativity block open and I have a funny story to tell ya sometime –
Thanks, Paul. Very much.
Good writers aren’t good because they’re “disciplined” in the modern sense of that word – at least not in the sense of kicking their own butts to force themselves to do something that they really don’t want to do. They’re disciplined in the old sense of that word, back when people still remembered that it had some connection with the word “disciple”. Good writers are good because they love writing just like St. Peter the disciple loved Jesus. They write whenever they damn well please, thank you, which tends to be quite often, because since they love it they don’t have to force themselves to do it.
But somewhere along the way we lost that childlike joy and became contaminated with society’s standards for “success”, and our definition of “success” mutated from the simple “spending as much time as possible doing what I love” to “making piles of money, getting a lot of pats on the back from other people, filling my trophycase with meaningless awards..” and so on and so on. It all gets SO complex, and pretty soon we’ve descended into the hell so convincingly described by Paul Guyot, spending as much time as possible doing what we DON’T like so we can afford to buy stuff we don’t need.
And then we compensate ourselves for our self-imposed misery by patting ourselves on the back and calling ourselves “disciplined”. I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve spent the last ten years as an attorney writing “legal poetry” (business contracts). The hell with it. I’m going to start my own blog, sell adspace to Google, and move to the beach in India where I can live like a king for $10,000 a year. I’ll write whenever I want to, and only when I want to. I’m sure I’ll write much better, and much more that way.
Maybe I’ll even buy a metal detector and suplement my income with the loose change I dig out of the sand…
After reading this, I’m going to call my mom and thank her for making me go to bed at 8:00 every school night–even if I only, in her words, “stared at the bumps on the ceiling.” I HAD to be in bed with jammies on, music and tv off. I had to drink all my milk. And eat my veggies before I got dessert. And when I got grounded for seven days, there was none of this wheedling out of it. I was grounded seven days to the hour—even junior prom weekend where my poor forlorn formal hung neglected in my closet. Yes, she was that mean.And now, I’m disciplined. I can sit every day at the computer and write. Only one problem: no ideas. A black void exists where imaginary characters should be talking and dressing and opening kitchen cabinets looking for a bottle of scotch. So I write about unimportant things like in the comment section on blogs where people will read my remarks, shake their heads in pity and move on to the next comment. I’d gladly swap with someone: my discipline for your ideas.
Comment on the last comment: Why is writing about discipline and writer’s block “unimportant”? I thought your comment was quite insightful, and good food for further thought on issues like the difference between “have to” and “want to”, and the consequences of each attitude. Not to sound insulting to Mr. Guyot, but why are murder mysteries “important” and blog comments “unimportant”? Because one forum makes more money than the other? Is earning potential the only measure of importance? How many great writers died penniless – and how many of us have been so richly blessed because they once lived, and wrote?
You’re right. And this post is a good reminder about the value of what we as writers do for ourselves and others regardless of compensation.
Wow, pull it out of my brain exactly the way it should be said and yet here I am writing here instead of on my wip. You are right. Just. Do. It.
John Schramm, you are totally missing the point.
If anybody ever gets any good writing done for pay, it is because they are:a) sensitive enough to know what makes good writing – and it follows, self-critical enough not to think that what they’re writing in the moment is all that good; ANDb) still capable of being hard enough on themselves to FACE all the self-criticism, work through the doubt, and write DESPITE the miserable state of not being able to believe in yourself or what you are writing, or whether you’ll even make deadline with anything decent.
It has to get worse before it gets better. Anything does.
Alex is right, the internal hell is part of the job. Discipline does not make it easier to take, it just ensures you produce. If you need a manageable level of stress in your life, don’t write; or if you do, don’t expect your writing to be worth other people’s time. And certainly not their money.