The Discipline Of Writing Is More Important Than Motivation

by Anne Wayman

freelance writing practice and disciplineWritetoDone, a wonderful blog about writing, has a guest article called What Lance Armstrong Can Teach Us About Motivation.

The writer talks about how having a near death experience as Armstrong did with his cancer can be motivating. He then suggests imagining you have only a year to live.

I’m sorry, but that simply doesn’t work for me. And yes, I’ve had a couple of near death experiences. One was a car accident (while taking my first column to a local newspaper if you want ironic) and one was a shipwreck and logic would say I should have died. And yes the grass looked greener, the sky brighter and I’ve been, sometimes, a happier person after those.

I simply can’t conjure up what I felt after both those experiences in any way that’s helpful in terms of getting myself to write or write more or write better or whatever.

Nor can I pretend to believe I might die in a year. It may be true, but I don’t know it and I can’t figure out how to feel it. Oh I can jump up and down, throw my fist in the air and for a moment or two, or even an hour or so, get all charged up, but that’s not where my best writing comes from.

What works for me is discipline. That’s sure not nearly as dramatic nor as interesting as a shipwreck, I know. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed.

Look, I’ve known forever I’m supposed to write; I like writing, I like getting paid for my writing and I hate going into an office five days a week.

The only way I know to stay out of an office run by someone other than me in my own home, even as a writer, is to get up most mornings and put my behind on the chair, my fingers on the keyboard and write. But I don’t think wanting to stay out of an office is my real motivation – not in the sense most people mean it anyway.


I actually like the process of writing. Putting this blog together, for example, the process of it, pleases me. There was a patch in the beginning that was just awful – it’s better now. The whole thing is closer to what I want to say. The doing of that excites me.

If, however, I hadn’t gotten up morning after morning, most mornings, I don’t think I would have found the joy of it.

Someone said, maybe even me, that it’s hard to get worse at something we practice. Practice and discipline seem like synonyms to me.

How do you feel about this?

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Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Laya Bajpai February 7, 2010 at 10:58 am

Hi,
I agree that a serious illness or a near death experience changes your perspective towards things. You suddenly want to grab the bull by the horn. So, I believe that if you lack drive a near death experience can make you act.
.-= Laya Bajpai´s last blog ..How not to write an article =-.

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Anne February 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

Laya, it can, but not everyone who is experiencing lack of drive will have a near-death experience… discipline can, I believe help almost everyone.

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Claudia February 6, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Thanks for this piece! How easy it is to forget that the “doing” is just as important as the inspiration – if not more so.
.-= Claudia´s last blog ..The Case of the Missing Letter =-.

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Anne February 7, 2010 at 11:38 am

Doing seems to inspire me ;)

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eeleenlee February 6, 2010 at 5:24 pm

creative writing tutors talk about a writing muscle
use it or lose it
.-= eeleenlee´s last blog ..Eat and Drink Write =-.

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T February 5, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I work with a lot of new writers, and I always tell them that persistence counts more than anything else for a writer. I think discipline is a first cousin to persistence. Deadlines require me to be disciplined, and persistence keeps me moving ahead.
.-= T´s last blog ..The Best News & Other Writing Prompts =-.

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Anne February 5, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Well said, T and I love the name of your blog… JustWrite!

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Cathy Miller February 5, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Love that! I guess if we weren’t, what’s the point? :-)
.-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..Believe in Your Business – It Shows =-.

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loupaun February 5, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I once read that Horowitz, when well into old age, told an interviewer that he still practiced scales every single day of his life. He said that if he missed one day, he could hear the difference; two days, and the critics could hear it; three days, and the audience could hear it.

Regular application worked for Horowitz, and I think it works for most of us. I don’t know if that’s discipline, or motivation, or just enjoying the work — but I do believe it is necessary.

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Anne February 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm

love that story, just love it, thanks.

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Cathy Miller February 5, 2010 at 8:47 am

Hi Anne:

I think back to right after 9/11 happened. I was working in downtown LA (and hating every day of that commute!) It was the first time that drivers were actually courteous. If you put your blinker on, they actually let you move in front of them. No one was driving at excessively high rates of speed. It was very surreal. I remember thinking, “Why can’t we always acts this way?” Because I knew it would change – and it did.

I never had a “near-death” experience unless you count the “near-death” of my soul. That is when I walked away from 30+ years in the Corporate world. This new path has not been easy but I know it is right for me. I cannot go back to my “old life.”

If we don’t have the discipline and persistence we need to succeed, then maybe we need to ask ourselves what is behind us putting barriers in our path. I’m still a work in progress in my new career & life and I do appreciate that your discipline and persistence, Anne, makes you a good part of my day. Thank you.
.-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..Believe in Your Business – It Shows =-.

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Anne February 5, 2010 at 12:51 pm

One of the things I like about getting older is that I now know there’s no place to get to, that I will always be a work in progress.

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Charlotte Rains Dixon February 4, 2010 at 7:16 pm

You know, I’ve never been able to do those “pretend you have one year to live, what would you do” exercises either, try as I might. They just end up depressing me. I think that discipline has gotten to be a dirty word, when it is, in truth, the only way any writing gets done. That great feeling of time passing without you know it only happens if you discipline yourself to sit down and write in the first place.
.-= Charlotte Rains Dixon´s last blog ..On Not Having Time to Paint =-.

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Lucy Smith February 4, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Haha, awesome!

It’s definitely true that, like anything else, you get better at writing with practice. And I always find I enjoy something more when I’m doing well at it (who doesn’t?). The trick, then, is to keep at it; don’t let your skills get rusty, because then you start to struggle and that saps the enjoyment, and that’s a vicious cycle.

It’s super-important to already like what you do, and if you’ve got that you’ve won a big part of the battle. If you don’t like it, then no amount of near-death experiences – real or imagined – are going to motivate you. For me, I’m getting paid to do something I like doing, which makes me happy, because for a while there I really questioned whether I could ever have that.
.-= Lucy Smith´s last blog ..Passion, what is that? =-.

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Anne February 4, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Hi Lucy, thanks for posting your link… it’s a good article.

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T.W. Anderson February 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Writing is like any other skill…the more you work at it, the better you get. It’s repetition at its most basic level.

However, having motivation behind the discipline is a bonus, but I do not feel it is any way required. This was very similar to a post I read today over at Lucy Smith’s blog, discussing passion (http://www.butterflycopywriting.com/passion-what-is-that). To me…passion/motivation isn’t a requirement for success. However, it does transform that discipline or job into something much, much more.

For me…I’m getting paid to enjoy my hobby. What could be better than that?
.-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..Exploitation of Writers: Fact or Fiction =-.

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