It’s been interesting to see the range of responses to last week’s Freshly Pressed post, A Hundred Thousand Empty Words. (I think one person even called me a liar, squared, for being truthful about how we lie to ourselves and others. Entertaining.)
And, of course, FP’s retitle, “6 Good Words or 500 Empty Ones?” set more of a stage for us to discuss opinions on how to write and what makes it work. Many common internet cliche’s came up, along with some great insights and encouragements.
I’ve been at the gig for over a decade now, a published writer and a professional editor, and always learning. The main thing I’ve learned is that establishing (or re-finding) productivity begins with awareness of one’s heart.
Pat Schneider, whom I mentioned in the discussion, has seen a lot of life and culture. She grew up in an era when ideas of “serious” writing were male-oriented and mediated by academic and media elite.
So, as a woman who longed to write from her youth, yet lived the “non-serious” life of backwoods girl, student, mother, housewife, and finally teacher and creative revolutionary, she taught the dispossessed to find their voices.
Schneider’s advice neither leads one into the realms of wishy-washy-waiting-never-acting, nor confines one to some rigid law of production. Instead, her decades of wisdom clarify the true principles of waiting and forging ahead. As a bonus, she eradicates some pernicious toxins along the way.
Here’s a few snippets of what she says about discipline as a writer.
After almost 50 years of writing and 25 years of helping other people write by leading creative workshops, I am convinced that the problem of discipline is lodged in the emotions, in a pattern of attitudes toward oneself and the idea of being a writer.
The problem is not discipline. It is belief. I truly despise the phrase “not a serious writer.” Often the phrase is used by a critic or teacher referring to a writer whose work they don’t like… What in the world is meant by a “serious” writer? Anyone who cares enough to take a course or a workshop is serious. There is no place for this kind of arrogance. The desire to write is serious.
There are those who advise, “Write at least 30 minutes each day.” There are those who say, “Write for many hours, but come out of it with only one or two pages.” These directions are fine for some writers, but they are absurd when they are given as rules applicable to all writers.
Discipline begins by understanding how you yourself work. Everyone’s patterns are different. You can learn something about how you work by remembering successes of the past. For example, when you accomplished a project — fixing a car, making a gift — how did you go about it? …Look at the way you worked when you did your best work.
It is my deep conviction that true discipline is a matter of love, rather than duty. If you are in love, you make time and space for the beloved… love is the root source of true discipline.