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The good of discipline and the writing that comes from it

pen-and-paperI took back part of my life today. I don’t know if I will have it tomorrow but for the moment it doesn’t matter. I did something good today, something that made me feel good in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

What I did was simple. I forced myself out of bed at 7:45, and by 8 a.m., I was sitting at my computer contemplating my book for the first time in six months. During that time, the book had become a scary monster. This happens to me all the time. I start something and have to step away from it. While I’m away, it becomes something else, a thing that inspires fear and self-loathing. It keeps me up at night and I dread opening it up again, afraid of what I might find.

Then the questions begin. What happens if I can’t finish? If it’s irrelevant? What happens if it turns out to be a dud? Maybe I’ve already done my best work. I mean, that last book was a good one. What happens if I can’t top it? Will people like it? What happens if they don’t?

These kinds of questions make no sense, of course. A book is what I put into it day to day. The end comes of itself. I won’t have to worry or fret about the course of the writing if I get up every day and write.

And that’s what I did this morning. I wrote. I first read what I had and considered the text. Does this say what I want? I’m dealing with a draft and a draft is not a book. It’s not even a manuscript. It’s just a pile of words. My job is to organize that pile into a story. To do that, I must find the themes, structure, and story arc. They are all in there somewhere. I just have to find them. That’s what the rewriting of a draft, the sculpting of a draft into a book is all about.

I was surprised when I opened that introduction. In my mind it had become a jokey, frivolous and confused collection of ideas. In reality, it shows a man taking off on a journey with his family. The journey will be one of self-discovery, the contemplation of friendships, and the development of a human being from what he was in his past. All the elements are there. They just need an even tone and sensible story line. The voice is unique but the experiences must connect with a wider audience, which they will.

Which leads me to another aspect of the rewriting: Soon after I opened the file and read what I had, the notion of audience left me. I wasn’t writing for an imaginary public. Instead, I was writing—an act so pure and focused that audience and the doubts I had about my work disappeared. I was alone in that near perfect space where creative impulse and confidence meet.

The hours disappeared one after the other until toward the end of the time I set for myself (four hours) came to a close. It was then that I wrapped my hands around my head and asked myself, is this saying what I want it to say? Does this get the point across? Is the sculpture what I want it to be?

I set the computer aside and went off to take a nap. As I lay on the bed, thoughts shot across the expanse of my mind. Maybe I need to make clearer that this book is about friendships and their meanings, their evolutions over time. Will this idea or that fit into the intro? What about the writing? Is it as smooth and clear as I want it to be?

I went over these things, thinking I will change this or alter that. I want to add this idea and it fits in this section. Slowly, the draft was rewriting itself. Those things that I thought about today will come back to me tomorrow when I open up my piece and begin the process again.

And the point is to continue to start the process and let it run every day. Things will get in the way. Already, tomorrow I have an appointment at 11:30 and then another at 12:30. I will start again at 8 a.m. and work until the last possible second, when I will have to gather my things and run out the door. But I like it this way. I like the urgency of the moment, both of writing and of ending the process. I won’t want to give up writing when I have to but I will. But that ending is as much a part of the discipline of writing as sitting down to it.

That discipline is important, both the act of sitting down and sticking to it until I have to stand up again. It worked today. It will probably work tomorrow. There will be days when I can’t get to it. Family or school or doctors’ appointments will get in the way. I have another project that I have to work on. But if I can sit down to the work—of both the book and the other project—every day for three to four hours, if not more if I can sneak it in, then I will accomplish my tasks before I know it.

Today was a good day and one I treasure in this moment. Who knows if every day will be like today. My experience tells me that there will be days when I stare at the computer screen for four hours, when nothing, not even the tiniest dribble, will come. I will be tired sometimes. The questions will return. I will get bogged down in my own self-doubt.

But my experience also tells me that if I sit down at an appointed time and work for a set number of hours, I will birth a book. I will get good writing done. I will, with determination, succeed in the tasks I’ve set before myself.

There will be good days and bad. But the discipline, if I can stick to it, will outlast the doubt and fear. It will be the key to getting this draft turned into a book.

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