The “Discipline” of Writing

Most of what we think and read about discipline only increases our resistance [to writing]. “Discipline” usually means making ourselves do some duty, grit our teeth, force ourselves to do what we don’t want to do. A disciplined writer, we are told (or we tell ourselves) writes every day, writes X number of hours a say or X number of pages or paragraphs a day. We read how someone else structures his or her writing life, and we judge ourselves (or we judge our kids) by that pattern. Unfortunately, many books on writing reinforce the idea of discipline.

The wrong kind of “discipline” damages the creative process. The deepest, truest discipline has its roots in the ancient wisdom of the Hebrew prophet Zechariah: “Not by might, nor by power, but by… spirit.” Rather than comparing ourselves with duty and guilt, we need to have a gentle, compassionate, and non-judgmental spirit toward our writing. William Burroughs said, “There is no such thing as will power. Only need.” The roots of a useful discipline lie in understanding ourselves, and that is a gentle matter. (Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others)

If we insert our children into each of the places where Pat Schneider speaks directly to the writer, we will see that it is even more important to be gentle with our children, with those in our care who are not ourselves! It takes extra attentiveness to be gentle with another person.

The writing life will look different family to family, homeschool to homeschool, child to child.

Schneider continues:

Discipline begins by understanding how you yourself work. Everyone’s patterns are different. You can learn something about how you work by remembering successes of the past. For example, when you accomplished a project—fixing the car, making a gift—how did you go about it? Did you lay out careful plans first and proceed in an orderly way, cleaning up after yourself as you went along? Or did you barge in with more energy than planning, change your plans as you went along, decide to do a portion of it somewhat differently from the instructions?

From there she suggests remembering successes in writing and paying attention to how they came about. We do a lot of that in Brave Writer—spending time remembering what makes the writing flow: knowledge of the subject matter, being able to write in a factual manner or through the use of story, being sure there is an audience outside of the home, having time to write a mess first and clean it up later, taking time to separate the steps into separate days, narrowing the topic.

So spend some time thinking about what makes the conditions just right for your kids to enjoy a disciplined (not an oxymoron) writing life.

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