My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Discipline/The Real Deal

What if, in 7th and 8th grade, you, any “you”, studied music — started an instrument, started learning how to read music, started learning music theory. And then you never kept up with formal instruction. Now, some ten or twenty years later, you want to be a musician. Are you surprised that you can’t sit down and even READ a Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto, much less play one? Does writing something as simple as Mozart’s Spinning Song, which he wrote at something like age 5, or figuring out a basic harmony to “Tell Me Why” (the old summer camp standard), seem harder than interstellar flight — without a ship? Of course it does! You lack sufficient knowledge of the craft.

Why do you think, even with a university education, you can simply sit down and write a decent novel, in first draft yet, even in a genre that tells you what your plot is and who your characters more or less are?

We hear so much in writing circles about people who aren’t actually writing, “wanna-be” writers, making up tons of excuses for why they aren’t writing. The usual answer is to have discipline and carve out the time necessary to actually learn the craft. This actually IS the answer. Take some classes to learn about form and structure, join a critique group, follow blogs like this one, get Grammarly’s weekly newsletter, read lots of writing blogs and books. Be ruthless, with yourself and others, about setting aside time, no matter when, no matter how short a time, whether you feel like it or not, to write as close to every single day as you can. Set tasks as simple as writing a haiku a day (first learn what one is and how they are constructed. It’s not just ANY 17 syllables on ANY random topic) and follow through. Practice with words. Play with words. Yes, it DOES take discipline, but it must be done. Because that is how you learn your craft.

People who can’t find the discipline to actually write, I think, are people who know in their hearts they lack sufficient knowledge of craft, and have the underlying conviction that they will never, ever, ever produce writing that is up to their own standards, much less anyone else’s. They give it a shot every once in a while, know things are wrong, but don’t know exactly what things, and are utterly clueless about how to fix them. It’s simply too daunting to learn, so they make believe and make excuses. But it’s when you give up on the wishful thinking and the excuses and actually sit down and start doing it, and learning how to do it better, that miracles happen.

One day, the person who has put in the time and effort to actually learn the craft will come across a piece of writing, her or his OWN writing, and think, “This is good!” Then will come not a sentence, a paragraph, a plot line, but an entire work, and IT IS GOOD. Objectively good. It’s not embarrassing, with problems obvious even to you (but which you can’t fix.)   This person who had the discipline — and humility —  to put in the effort will suddenly realize that she or he is The Real Deal, an actual writer, not a wanna-be, potential, someday, magical, with never a bit of effort but a great many excuses, pseudo-writer.

At this point, “discipline” in terms of sitting down and writing ceases to be an issue. There are always half a dozen projects cooking in your head. There’s always a book in process, and eventually you are, like I am, juggling the book that’s coming out even as I write this (it’s kind of partially out) with the Next Book, which I am researching and plotting. I write my own blog, I guest blog here. I can’t resist writing poetry fairly often. It just leaps into my head and needs to go onto a page. When I FINALLY get my end of the months-long publishing process complete, and am only juggling blogging, reviews, appearances and all that, I will want to jump right into Book Three. For me, now, because I AM The Real Deal, I AM a working writer, MY discipline needs to go another way. I need to stop. I need to take a break. For at least a couple of weeks. I can read the history and folklore books I need for research. I can toy with plots in my head. But I cannot commit pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for a while. Book Three will be better for allowing my brain a chance to work in the background.  

So AM I The Real Deal? Check out my books — hardcopies of Book Two should be available sometime this week at Amazon, and e-formats and hard copies are wending their ways through the distributors to retail outlets — and see for yourselves.

Aren’t they PRETTY?  The bound galleys came yesterday!

[If you would like to do a regular or not-so-regular guest blog here at Writing About Writing, check out our guidelines and then drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.]

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