The Other D Word

Asked what they consider their greatest writing challenge, my workshop participants always cite discipline: if inspiration doesn’t find its way to paper or disk, it must be due to a lack of discipline.

But try inverting this diagnosis: what if the obstacle to writing is too much discipline? Isn’t it discipline that compels us to do almost anything else instead: mow the grass, organize some piece of household or office entropy, honor to-do lists, and tightly schedule our time? And if we do manage to set aside all the discipline that facilitates our daily lives, we come up against the discipline we’ve learned to associate with writing: correct spelling and grammar, topic sentences and thesis statements, strictly defined assignments, all of which squeeze the air right out of the creative process.

The next time you find yourself not writing, think about setting aside all the discipline that’s getting in the way. Get comfortable with your favorite beverage, writing implement, clipboard, and allow yourself to waste time. Daydream. Accept whatever comes to mind—a memory, an image, a what if. Record it in your messiest handwriting, on the diagonal, or sideways, across the lines. Forget logical connections; don’t worry about filling in gaps. Let yourself enter the undisciplined unknown.

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