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The path of discipline

The other day I wrote about how creativity is not a well that can be emptied, or which diminishes over time. It’s more like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.

I was talking about writing. But sometimes coincidence packs a hell of a punch. I fired up my podcasts app yesterday and saw that Jocko Willink, decorated Navy Seal, was guest hosting The Tim Ferriss show.

The topic? Discipline.

He has a new book out called Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. One section talks about the “psychological win over the enemy” that a person gains from waking up early, which leads him to the topic of discipline.

This is what he says…

“Now, some scientists have claimed that discipline dissipates the more it is used—that willpower is a finite resource that is reduced every time it is used during the day.

This is wrong. That does not happen.

To the contrary, I believe, and studies have shown, that discipline and willpower do not go down as they are called into action—they actually get stronger.”

Could it be that discipline and creativity are the same that way? They get stronger, better, smarter, the more you use them? The more you work at it?

This makes sense to me. Creativity, especially regular writing output over a long period of time, certainly requires discipline. It can be hard. It calls up fear. It demands sacrifice. Creativity and discipline are the same that way.

Willink goes on for a while about this. Then he warns the reader away from the downside…

“Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Once you step off the path [of discipline], you tend to stray far. When you don’t prepare what you need to do the ne

xt day, when you sleep in and then skip your workout and you don’t start attacking the tasks you have—because you didn’t write them down the night before—that is when you make bad decisions. That is when your will and discipline fail. You figure you might as well have that donut for breakfast and once you have done that, might as well put down four or five pieces of pizza for lunch. It doesn’t matter anymore—you’re off the path and that is a disaster. Your will didn’t break—it never showed up in the first place.

So. Get on the path of discipline and stay on the path.

Discipline begets discipline.

Will propagates MORE WILL.

Hold the line across the line and victory will be yours.”

Willink’s words inspired me so much I actually got up early this morning and exercised. That’s why sleep is calling me at 9:21pm on a Saturday. So I’m going to head to sleep.If you’re still awake for a while longer, you can listen to the man read the words himself on Tim’s show. He is inspiring.

Jolt to the system

Photo taken at Houndstooth this afternoon.

Austin is littered with coffee shops like this. Free WiFi and delicious, imported, overpriced cups of joe. Spent a few hours there writing to finish up the day. Backwards Fridays continue to serve me well. It’s like a jolt to the system. A soft refresh.

And now the weekend stretches ahead of me like the still waters of a lapis lagoon.

Writing has nothing to do with how you feel about it

I’m gonna have to go look up the writing book where I first encountered this advice, because it’s escaping me right now, but the wisdom went something like this:

The quality of your writing has no correlation to how you feel about it while you’re writing.

That’s right, no matter whether you’re happy or sad, angry or depressed, jubilant or hungover, your emotional state does not correlate to the quality of the words you’re writing.

I’ve had days when I’m a miserable grump, and write a great scene in spite of myself. I’ve had days where I’m depressed and write crap.

I’ve deleted scenes that I thought were brilliant and which I wrote in a burst of inspiration. Oops.

I’ve had good days and bad days and everything in between. The quality of my work stays consistent—and (I hope) actually improves with time.

Will it be easier to sit down and work when you’re in a good mood? Of course.

That’s why taking care of your health is so important.

But you don’t have to be in a good mood to work.

As a professional, you go to work no matter how you feel. Do you want to be a pro? Then get to work.

This fetish with the flash of inspiration is damaging to the working writer. It gives the wrong expectation. How can a writer not be disappointed with a bland day when they expect genius at every turn?

In the end writing is a craft. And like the woodworker goes to the shop every day no matter how he feels about his work at the moment, so must the writer.

Otherwise how are you going to get enough practice to be any good at this thing?

Are you going to wait until inspiration strikes?

Are you going to wait until you’re “in the mood”?

Nope. The time is now. Get to work.

Sometimes writing is thinking

Today was mostly life stuff — groceries, cutting the grass, seeing friends, cooking food. Good food, too. The steak and lemon risotto we made for dinner was absolutely delicious.

I did find a little time to write. The first part of that was spent doing distance and speed calculations for the logistical problem I stumbled upon on Translocator 3 yesterday. The second part was spent staring off into space wondering how I was going to fix it.

Sometimes thinking is writing. And in this case it certainly was because I seemed to have backed myself into a corner.

But eventually I figured out a good solution. I fixed it as I went through the first three chapters. Now things are moving quickly again. There will be more dialogue to tweak near where I left off at chapter 9, but that should do the trick.

Reading the story on paper is fun and I find myself getting sucked into it as a reader. Definitely a good sign.

I ended up adding about 500 words today.

More tomorrow.

Third long day of catching up, and a T3 update!

I’ve been super busy since I got home from the trip.

Finally managed a full day of fiction writing, which in my books means over 1000 good words. That takes a few hours. Alongside several more hours in the chair working on freelance projects and I’m pretty zapped by the end of it. I didn’t even really want to write this blog but I’m on a streak, baby, and there’s no way I’m letting that go.

Translocator 3 is coming along nicely. I noticed a logistical/plot problem in the first act that needs fixing, so I figure it’s time to print out what I’ve got and go through it from the top—tighten everything up and fix the plot thing at the same time. All a normal part of the process for me. Seeing the story on paper is important.

And after being on the trip, it’s really the perfect way to refresh my memory. It’s amazing how quickly you forget the important little details. That’s part of the reason I like to write fairly quickly. Less chance of losing control over the story.

A few things have evolved from the outline as I’ve gotten into the book. That’s also normal. In this case, it’s mostly the emotional states of the characters, as I flesh out their motivations and see how they react around each other after what happened at the end of The Alien Element. They start in an altogether new place in this book, even though they’re the same characters. They’re all a bit older now. Their relationships with each other have evolved, and are in some cases they are entering new territory—territory that’s unknown and more than a little scary.

As I’ve been working on this, I’ve been thinking a lot about method acting—that’s what I feel like I’m doing when I’m trying to get into the heads of these characters. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be them in that particular moment. How would they feel? How they would they react? What would they notice and experience? Everything through the opinion of the character.

I only bring this up because sometimes it takes a while to get into it…and sometimes as the writer I’m not even sure how they will actually feel until I’m writing the scene and it turns out different than expected. Right now I’m still getting to know the characters as they are in this book. Once I understand them better, it will be easier to see how events must unfold.

I think that’s what writers mean when they say that the character “took over the story”, or “took the story in a new direction.” It seems like magic, but it’s more like instinct combined with a deeper understanding.

Anyway, I’m still feeling my way into the story but making fine progress. At 17,769 words of about 80-90k.

Translocator 3 - scifi novel in progress

New England in Autumn: Day 6

Last day in New England! Today, Shelly and I went into Cambridge to check out Harvard Square and the Harvard campus before catching our plane back to Austin. The rain from the hurricane has blown over and it’s been a surprisingly warm and sunny day for October.

Our flight is this evening, so we’re killing time in a coffee shop now and catching up on a little bit of work before we head up to the airport.

My favorite part of the Harvard campus—apart from peoplewatching, an ever-amusing hobby—was the JFK park. Though he died long before I was born, I grew up hearing about the man, and especially hearing his words through his recorded speeches.

And whatever you might think of JFK and his time as president, his words have echoed long in my mind. Here are the quotes they engraved on the memorial.

Back in Austin tomorrow means the end of vacation, back to work, and best of all back to writing. It’s been a fun trip, but I’m excited to get back to it. There’s work to do.

New England in Autumn: Day 5

It rained all day today, the tail end of hurricane Nate as it moves up the coast. Still, we went into Salem for a visit with my uncle and also to see the Salem Witch Trials stuff they have in the city.

The museum—where we couldn’t take any photos—was pretty neat. I’ve heard bits of the story through the years but never the full narrative. Fear makes people do crazy things. And what happened in Salem in 1692 was a small incident compared to the Inquisitions that happened in Europe in the same era.

Lots of thoughts for stories out of that visit. Haven’t had time to digest those thoughts yet, but maybe I’ll write more about them here someday.

In the meantime, some photos from the cemetery where the victims of the Salem Witch Trials are buried and memorialized.

New England in Autumn: Day 4

We made the drive back to Massachusetts today. Apart from that, a relaxing and uneventful day. I spent some time watching the videos from week 1 of a new writing workshop I’m taking, and submitted my assignment. Then we went for a walk, and out for pizza!

Here are a few more photos from the weekend—not landscapes this time, but some vintage radios and equipment in the Mount Washington museum, and a shot of a shelf in the general store in North Conway (I think it was called Zeb’s).