Discipline and Write

Writer Jack Donahue’s work was featured in issue 11 of Newtown Literary. Below, he writes about the benefits of having discipline as a writer. You can follow Jack on Facebook or Instagram.

Discipline was something I always needed in ample doses when it came to writing, but seldom practiced. I had all the excuses, though, like raising a family, having a career that required heavy travel, starting my own business working eighteen hours a day, taking care of a very ill wife, going to seminary, and so on and so forth. All of these major intervals in my life, spanning decades, contributed to long lapses between writing projects. I got very good at rationalizing my lack of discipline. Substituting short, haphazard bursts of creativity over equally short, intensive periods for the time and honor bound daily routine of actually sitting down at a writing desk, staring at a computer keyboard or yellow foolscap pad and forcing myself to produce something, anything, hopefully good enough to be worthy of publication or at least potentially editable, was rationalization at its best. After all, I reasoned, I once wrote a complete ninety-minute two-act drama in a fiendish, caffeine-driven consecutive thirty-six hour spell. Start to finish, I did it in under two days! The fact that it never got produced is beside the point. I made a commitment to do nothing else but write during that very intense time.

Then, one day, upon reading a review of a new book written by the mega successful and ever prolific author, Stephen King, entitled On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, my writer’s life started to assume the air of professionalism. I purchased the book, devoured it in one sitting, and subsequently became duly ashamed of myself. Whether you are a fan of his work or not, it is impossible to argue with Mr. King’s success, not only in writing bestseller books but in adapting several of his novels into hugely popular movies. On Writing is Stephen King’s generous gift to fellow writers. He does not brag about his many novels, which he easily could. He does not write down to the reader, chastising lesser writers who lack his discipline, but shares the many benefits of what it means to be a disciplined writer, which is akin to being a professional writer. It is an oversimplification, but his advice involves the regimented act of setting aside a certain time each day and producing a predetermined number of pages or words during that set aside time. I guess I had a wild idea about the essential Stephen King, based on the ultra imaginative novels he has written. I assumed that someone who was that creative and wildly imaginative had little or no discipline. He just created in spurts, I thought. How wrong I was. He sets a certain time aside each day and writes! His devoted followers can hardly wait for his next title to appear. I recommend his treatise on writing for every aspiring writer. It is short, humorous, to the point and absolutely inspiring.

Not embracing Stephen King’s advice immediately, I never forgot what I read in On Writing nor did I forget the nagging shame of being totally undisciplined while still calling myself a writer. Now, on board with a daily routine, I can readily admit to a certain degree of satisfaction that I am proud of finally incorporating discipline into my daily life as a writer. Currently retired from a host of previous careers and facing nothing but a blank slate of free time set before me on a daily basis, I absolutely ran out of excuses in order to avoid a daily routine.

Fortunately for me, during my time employed in the corporate world and serving in the ministry, I always kept notes. Observations, ideas for dialogue, poetic images, weird plot twists or story lines, overheard snippets of private conversations, newspaper articles, daydreams, night dreams, and more were recorded on napkins, small notebooks, scraps of paper and I put them all aside for possible future use as a play, poem, short story, or memoir. Putting aside the temptation to fill the early morning hours (after coffee, breakfast, and prayer devotions) with a host of time stealers and killers such as reading The New York Times cover to cover, playing with my cats, catching up on Facebook and Instagram posts, reading and answering my mail and email, cleaning up last night’s dishes, going for a walk on the beach, thumbing through a pile of unread magazines, studying the stats and recaps of the previous days sports events, I now use those (non writing ) activities for my actual writing. My goal: two-thousand words a day. That is for prose. Poems, much shorter, require less word output but equal time. Once I reach that daily goal, I feel fulfilled and less guilty about doing all of the other pleasurable activities listed above.

There is a strong connection between exercising these new, self-imposed disciplinary writing habits and getting my work accepted for publication. With much gratitude to my lovely wife, Carol, who acts as my editor and reads and critiques everything I write, my batting average for getting my poems (thank you Newtown Literary) and short stories published, has gone up considerably.

We live on the North Fork of Long Island on waterfront property overlooking Haywater Cove. It is a beautiful spot. I chose the back porch for my writing zone (see photo of back porch view below). Daily visits from egrets, ducks, geese, swans, deer and water constantly gurgling with aquatic life serves to inspire me, not so much for writing solely about nature, but for being inspired enough to contribute, by writing as best I can, about what is dignified, troubling and beautiful in this world.

Thanks, Jack!

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