I’ve been thinking a lot lately about self-discipline. Specifically, my severe lack of it. So many goals have come and gone with noble intentions but feeble follow-through. I vow to go to bed earlier, get up earlier, read more, eat less, obey the speed limit, and a thousand other things large and small. Broken resolutions are, unfortunately, part of being human.
I get mad at myself. But I also tend to laugh it off and turn it into a joke: “Ha ha, another resolution bites the dust,” or “Whoops! There goes the diet. Maybe I’ll try again next week.” It’s a coping mechanism, I suppose, to make myself feel better. But when a goal repeatedly goes unrealized, at some point I have to do something different to get a different result. I can’t keep setting the same goal without taking proper action to see it through.
Consider the following quote by Calvin Coolidge:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
When I think about the times I truly made a lasting change in life or accomplished a major goal, it took a special brand of persistence: the kind that requires sacrifice, sheer stubbornness, and a willingness to work every day, even when I didn’t feel like it.
No, it’s not always fun.
Yes, it gets results.
Every time I finish or revise a manuscript, I reach a point in the process where it seems too hard—even impossible. Where I want to chuck it all in the garbage and give up writing forever. Sometimes it’s my own self-doubt that gets in the way. Other times it’s just life: work, family, health issues, and more.
So how do you overcome that temporary paralysis? How do you work around the many demands on your time, move beyond self-doubt, and get the thing done?
Forward progress is the key. A chapter a day, or a page. Even a paragraph.
Someone once told me that time will pass whether you’re working toward your goal or not. A year from now, would you rather have a finished manuscript or a pile of excuses and regrets? Easy to say and harder to do, I know, but here are a few simple methods to help you stay on track:
Have a friend or loved one check in with you once a day, once a week—whatever suits your writing pace—and ask how things are going. A supportive confidant can offer words of encouragement, monitor your progress, or be a sounding board for new ideas.
Writing programs, apps, a simple alarm clock, sticky notes—choose one method or several that will remind you to get working and encourage you to keep at it.
For every chapter finished or every thousand words written or every page revised or –insert goal here-, reward yourself. Eat a favorite treat, take a walk outdoors, buy a new notebook (my favorite), or choose another reward that is personal and meaningful to you. Some writers even use sticker charts or other fun trackers.
If you are a creature of habit, try to write in the same place at the same time every day. A strict routine leaves little room for procrastination. Or, if the sight of your office or writing space is killing your creativity, try a change of scenery. Change up your routine by writing at the coffee shop, library, or other public space. I tend to get a ton of writing done when surrounded by strangers.
Self-discipline, I believe, is more art than science. It takes trial and error to find a style that works for you. For some it comes naturally; for others, it’s a daily struggle. But it’s a necessary skill for any writer whose end goal is a masterpiece in the form of a finished, polished manuscript.
Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.