How does discipline play in the care and feeding of your writer? It has a bigger role than you imagine: not enough and you feel terrible; too much and you burn out. Ken Atchity writes in his A Writer’s Time that you should work on your project whether or not you feel the muse. She’ll show up eventually, he says, and it might as well be for something that matters.

My own experience is that I have to show good faith on a long project (for me, a novel), but that the not knowing where I’m going and the deadend writing that is the process of that wears and tears emotionally, and I have to step back sometimes, give myself a break away. This is when I head for morning pages or when I try to write a haiku every day, something that keeps me engaged with the act of writing but isn’t the process that is currently busting me.

I also have to find a balance of discipline, which means when I’m in a hard stage of a big writing process not writing so long and so hard that I exhaust myself, another of Atchity’s tips for the long haul on a project.

This is also where you use the tricks of stopping in the middle of a scene or knowing exactly the first sentence you will write the next day. (The mind rewrites it, but you mustn’t until time to sit down and do it.) And when in a hard project, you work until the point before exhaustion or depression. That way, you keep faith with the project, and yet you protect that part of yourself that is terrified you won’t be able to do whatever it is you’re aiming for.

Bonni Goldberg in her Room to Write has a great writing prompt: give your muse a look and give it a voice, too. Picture it, and then write what it says to you. I do this exercise every year in my writing class, and every year, the muse is so kind to the writers, so much kinder than the writers are to themselves.

Hope is a thing with feathers/That perches in the soul… of its faces is creativity.


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