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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Do Writers Need Discipline?

This morning's Kansas City Star ran a piece on the Opinion page by David Brooks, who writes for the New York Times, titled Disciplined Base is a Must For Creativity and Daring. Mr. Brooks started his article with vignettes about writers and what their writing routine included. I'd like to share his words on three well-known writers here in colored font.
When she was writing, Maya Angelou would get up every morning at 5:30 and have coffee at 6. At 6:30, she would go off to a hotel room she kept — a small modest room with nothing but a bed, desk, Bible, dictionary, deck of cards and bottle of sherry. She would arrive at the room at 7 a.m. and write until 12:30 p.m. or 2 o’clock.
John Cheever would get up, put on his only suit, ride the elevator in his apartment building down to a storage room in the basement. Then he’d take off his suit and sit in his boxers and write until noon. Then he’d put the suit back on and ride upstairs to lunch.
Anthony Trollope would arrive at his writing table at 5:30 each morning. His servant would bring him the same cup of coffee at the same time. He would write 250 words every 15 minutes for two and a half hours every day. If he finished a novel without writing his daily 2,500 words, he would immediately start a new novel to complete his word allotment.
I was reminded of these routines by a book called “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work,” compiled by Mason Currey.
Discipline, then, is our topic for today. You and I might not do anything quite as quirky as the three noted writers above but perhaps we do have our own routine. Each one of us is a different person who works in a manner that provides the needed output of words when we write. No way would many of us sit in our underwear in a basement storage room of a highly populated apartment building like John Cheever did. But, if it worked for him, fine. You do what works for you.
The key here is that we should try to discipline ourselves to a regular writng routine. It does make a difference if you're attempting to make a living as a freelance writer or if you're a hobbyist writer. But I maintain that both kinds of writers benefit from the discipline of a regular writing routine.
Note that each of the three writers mentioned above closed themselves away from the everyday interruptions of phones, doorbells and family members popping in. They put themselves in a place where the writing itself stayed paramount. They also had the ingredients in life that allowed them to do this. You and I might not but we can do our best to have a disciplined writing routine with what we do have. 
If you do, I think you'll find that the amount and the quality of your writing may improve. 
Mr. Brooks ends his article with something else I liked comparing the order of global civilization to the order of a poet's mind. He said, the order in a poet's mind, is something that has to be fought for and imposed every day. 
You can read his full article here if you're interested.


  1. I didn't know this about Maya Angelou. This is all very intriguing! Thanks!

    1. Bobby, I found it all pretty intriguing, too.