Hello? Is anybody there?
If you’re a writer, you know that question well! If you’re a reader, please answer!
When I first started blogging, I asked on my Facebook fan page what people might like to see me write about. One of the questions was about my discipline as a writer.
Writers know obscurity very well.
We write uncredited portions of larger projects. We sign work-for-hire contracts and what we create belongs to other people or companies. We contribute to newsletters for small organizations. We write lively documents for our day jobs that don’t bear our names. We write study guides for somebody else’s book. We write manuscripts that we shove in the closet knowing they will never see publication, but we are not sorry we wrote them.
We write in obscurity. But the time counts. We’re learning. Our standards go up. The discipline of putting words on a page that are not total slop takes form over thousands of hours.
Here are a few features of my own writing discipline.
1. Set regular writing times. Sometimes I’ve had the joy of writing full time in the days. Other times, I’ve had a day job and had to mine my life for both time and energy to write—like most writers. When I have a day job, I set aside evenings to write and don’t let go. I set my eye on the goal of the halfway mark, the first draft, the revision, and move forward one writing session at a time.
2. Embrace the project. I suppose whatever my current project is—credited or uncredited—gets into my head and takes over. Even when I’m not at the keyboard, the project simmers (or boils) in my brain. The only way to wrest back control of my brain is to sit at the computer and dump out the words. Get it done.
3. Promise a date. I give myself deadlines if I don’t have one from outside myself. Now I have contracts with publishing companies that give me firm dates, and I can figure out from there how much progress I must make each month. Saying the deadline out loud, even to myself, helps to make it real.
4. Learn to say no. For me, writing doesn’t happen unless I say no. No to the laundry that needs folding. No to the dishes in the sink. No to my family, even. There will always be something else I could be doing other than writing. I have to choose yes or no.
It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time to have my years of disciplined obscurity put to the test with actual publishing contracts.
Whatever you are doing in obscurity, it counts. It matters because it is forming you, teaching you lessons about your own life and how you interact with the world. Whether or not you are a writer, obscurity is a learning lab. It’s a place to take hold. To dream. To seize. I hope you have such a moment of joy today.
• Back to my Facebook question: what would you like me to write about on this blog?