Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 15, 2011

Discipline and Disobedience

Once in a while, people comment on my writerly discipline, but I’m just as familiar with her rebel sister. One writer inside me has picked up a trick or two over the years and is happy to dole out advice. And you know how people are always so happy to hear hard-earned wisdom. Yes, the other writer runs the other way, would just as soon avoid getting into the muck of deep writing, and rather read facebook updates or magazines.

She gets told that she’s the only one who can write the book in my files. She shrugs. She’s reminded of how good she’ll feel when it’s done. Another shrug. I see her start to listen when told that the beginning is always the hardest part of the day, but  it’s best to stop lecturing while I’m ahead and turn to bribes and tricks. I tell her that she’ll  have to work only an hour today or that it’s okay to shirk the task at hand, but tackle another page or poem or chapter. Or that we’ll only do a little tidying, typing in marked parts of my manuscript or moving notes I inserted onto the ends of chapters.

Finding places for these notes leads me to new places and some new ideas. Often, what started as cleanup leads to engagement, and it doesn’t matter that the work is happening in chapter 5 instead of 11, that my protagonist is in Boston instead of Italy. There’s the old standby, Just ten minutes, just half a page. Once I push myself in, more often than not I’m snared. But don’t tell that to the rebel within me. I won’t offer her bribes for good behavior. Well, maybe there’s a cookie, or lighting a candle on this gray day, or another peek at facebook. But I’ll let her steal what she wants. I’m not sure I want her to know my tricks.



  1. Great post. It’s so about getting started, tricking ourselves to get in there and do SOMETHING. Whoever said this was easy?! 🙂

    • Did someone say this was easy? But yes, the “doing something” is key. And sometimes even the “something not so very good” helps us move deeper than doing something good or sensible. Good luck, Becky!

  2. I can’t believe this post comes at a time when I’ve had to sternly take myself in hand. No tricks – just saying, “Cut the c–p.”

    • Sarah, whatever works for you, go for it. I just know I do better keeping away from ultimatums and being sly or kind or both. I fall for the wheedling every time (well almost).

  3. I definitely know the rebel. I always write my best poems when I’m supposed to be doing something else. The best “trick” I have is reading a book about writing, which never fails to spark something in my brain, if nothing other than a desire to stare at the page again. The one I’m reading now is “Unless It Moves the Human Heart” by Roger Rosenblatt.

  4. Reading craft books is a great trick. Except maybe for Anne Lamott’s wonderful Bird by Bird, which is in a class of its own, I think some of the best of these are ones I’ve never finished reading, but like you, found they sent me away to blank pages. They’re both company and warmup. Thanks for reminding me of Roger Rosenblatt’s book which is among the unfinished on my shelf .. think I’ll go back.

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