How to Become a More Self-Disciplined Writer

All five of my children have learned to play the piano (or are still in the process). While none of them are musical geniuses, I firmly believe learning to play the piano is a gift I’m offering my children. Not only are they getting a solid foundation in music, but even more valuable than that, they’re getting an important lesson in self-discipline.

According to Merriam-Webster, self-discipline is: correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement.

There’s just something about learning piano (or any instrument) that forces a person to correct and train oneself for the sake of improvement. It fosters self-discipline, which then carries over into other areas of our life.

Like my children, I also took many years of piano lessons (not that I play well anymore!). But in the process of learning piano (among other activities), I practiced self-discipline over and over. And now self-discipline is one character quality that has helped me enormously in my writing career.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about growing in self-discipline as a writer from piano lessons:

Concentrated increments can help us be more productive.

Rather than 5 minute practice sessions scattered throughout the day, my children practice piano in 20 to 30 increments (depending on their level). The larger chunk of time is more productive because they need a few minutes to warm up their fingers before the songs begin to flow.

When we’re writing, we need to give ourselves more than five minutes here or ten minutes there. Yes, some days that may be all we can squeeze in. But usually I spend the first part of my writing time getting back into the swing of the story. It takes some time before the words start flowing. I’ve noticed that on days when I have extended time, I write my best and fastest, especially when I’ve been at it for an hour or two.

I know from personal experience how hard it is to find concentrated writing time. And yet, I would encourage all of us to block out some uninterrupted and extended time every week.

Consistent practice hones our skill.

My children practice piano every day, 6 days a week. Sure, they get occasional breaks. But when they keep up with their songs and scales day after day, what they’re learning sticks better.

When we’re writing, if we take time to write every day, the story stays fresh in our minds. And when we use our writing muscles consistently, we eventually build them up and can write with more ease and speed.

Forcing ourselves to work regardless of feelings develops perseverance.

Sometimes my kids say, “Practicing piano isn’t fun.” In fact, there are plenty of days my kids would like to get out of practicing. It can grow laborious and monotonous. But in order to teach them the value of self-discipline, I don’t allow any excuses. There’s no getting out of it, not for any reason. And even when they’re sick, I say, “If you’re too sick to practice piano (or do schoolwork), then you’re too sick to play.”

We can’t expect to be successful if we wait to write until we’re inspired or only when it’s fun. Regardless of everything else going on, we have to make ourselves sit down at the keyboard, plunk away, and add words—on the days we feel like it AND the days we don’t.

Challenging ourselves beyond our comfort zone leads to growth.

My children like to practice the songs they’ve memorized, the ones that come easy. Sometimes they get stuck on practicing those easy tunes and avoid putting dedicated effort to the new harder ones the teacher assigns them. I remind them the “easy” songs used to be hard. I encourage them to go above and beyond what they teacher has asked them to do. Take the extra step. Press just a little harder.

Growth comes when we challenge ourselves to do more than we think we can. If writing is always “easy”, then maybe we’re not pushing ourselves hard enough—to find original descriptions, to make our plot more complex, etc. Or maybe we need to challenge ourselves to write more words per day. Whatever the area, we can stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

Diligent work helps us progress faster.

During the allotted practice time, I encourage my children to stay focused, not to get up for drinks, or to chat with a sibling. If they dilly-dally during their practice time, then over the course of time, they don’t progress as quickly as they could.

If we set aside concentrated increments and sit down to write consistently, we need to make every second count. Often that requires shutting off the internet, putting on headphones, bending our head down, and not looking up until we reach the end of our “practice time.”

I usually set a timer during my writing time. During a 30 minute span I give myself a goal of writing a certain number of words. I put it on a sticky note. That helps me to stay focused during that time. When the time is up, I challenge myself for another 30 minutes, and so on, giving myself breaks to check email or twitter when I complete my time/goal.

How well did you learn self-discipline when you were growing up? Did anything help develop that quality in you (like piano lessons)? How self-disciplined are you now in your writing?

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