Three Ways To Cultivate Discipline In Your Writing Life

Finding the time and discipline to write is a challenge for many authors. There are three easy ways to make the most of your writing time each day.

Does creativity strike when you’re messing around and having fun? Does being laid-back and disorganized spark the most creative masterpieces? Many people believe that creativity is a product of the scattered brain. Some experts even argue that there’s research to support this theory.

While the archetype of the mad genius is a common one, the truth is that the most successful creatives are actually extremely disciplined when it comes to their work.

Unlocking creativity isn’t about sitting back, goofing off and waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s about meticulously curating the right conditions to foster creativity.

Even if you aren’t familiar with his theory of relativity, you’ve probably heard of Einstein. Albert Einstein was one of the most innovative thinkers in history. The disheveled scientist is the poster boy of the messy genius archetype.

Einstein’s desk was famously photographed on the day he died. The picture reveals a chaotic landscape of papers and books.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign of?”

But behind Einstein’s messy desk was a regimented mind. In Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, author Mason Currey records the daily schedules of the world’s most creative people. In his book, Currey refutes the belief that Einstein had a hectic or disorganized life.

Einstein’s schedule was actually regimented around his work. As a rule, Einstein worked at home after dinner to finish up anything he didn’t complete at his office. And his shaggy bed head served a practical purpose: he kept his hair long to avoid barber visits.

Einstein was disciplined, and he’s not the only one. People like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos didn’t succeed by fooling around until they struck gold; they each worked within the confines of a routine that helped them to be creative.

Creatives, freelancers, and entrepreneurs all share a unique problem: lack of order. Most creatives don’t have a traditional job with scheduled work hours. They don’t have bosses or coworkers to hold them accountable. They don’t need to be anywhere at any specific time. Some don’t even have concrete deadlines for their work. Though I have a part-time job, I make sure I have time to write.

Creatives need to foster self-discipline. This is much easier said than done, especially for absent-minded types. Without discipline, you might find yourself doing nothing all day.

The hardest part of any task is getting started. Steven Pressfield writes in his acclaimed book The War of Art, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

Here’s how you can find inspiration, be more innovative and unleash the power of your creativity.

1. Make a schedule and stick to it.

If you’re a struggling creative, chances are you don’t have a schedule. Or maybe you do have one, but you don’t follow it. In order to maximize your creativity, you need to have a schedule. More importantly, you need to stick to it.

Many creatives make the mistake of over-correcting here. They create a minute-to-minute blueprint for their day. This can result in fatigue and emotional exhaustion. Instead of taking this unrealistic approach, simply map out the flow you’d like your day to have.

Maybe you want to exercise, work, eat lunch, do some more work, and call it a day. Once you understand what your ideal day looks like, nail down your schedule by attaching times to each activity and follow that plan the best you can. And absolutely do not forget to sleep.

Planning is easy, but executing a plan (especially a daily plan) requires a good bit of willpower. If you want to work from 9AM to 1PM, you need to work for those four hours. Plan in some breaks if you feel that you need them, but remember to work consistently.

2. Separate your workspace from your living space.

Another problem that gets in the way of creatives is their environment. Where do you work right now?
Many creatives lack designated workspaces and that’s a big reason why so many of them struggle. It’s hard to shift gears between work and play when you work from home.

3. Set a dress code for yourself.
It’s not only where you work, but what you work in.

It’s a cliché that freelancers work in their pajamas. If you want to be creative and productive, you might want to toss that advice in the trash. What you wear has a direct effect on how you perform.
Donning a hoodie and sweats every day encourages you to be a little lazier.

Create a dress code for yourself during your work hours. You don’t need to wear a penguin suit or ball gown, but you should choose clothes that encourage professionalism. That may mean a crisp button-up shirt and slacks or jeans and a blouse.

Find what works for you. Just don’t get too comfortable. Remember: you’re at work.

3. Cultivate A Habit of Discipline Today

For most creatives, developing discipline is the largest obstacle in their way. Using a work checklist can also help to stay on the right track.

Sure, you can search high and low for a new source of inspiration—but why not tap into the potential that’s already inside you?

If you’ve exhausted sitting in front of a blank screen or canvas, give these techniques a try. You might be surprised at what you can achieve with a little order.

How disciplined are you about getting your writing done?
Sue Powers has had many short stories published. She’s written a mystery called, She’s Not There, and is writing another mystery.

My Creative Writing Class

My ‘Writing the Short Story’ class began two weeks ago. We had four people for the first class. Second class we had three (very nice people). For the third class, the fourth person has said she will be there. But here’s the thing – they’re all beginners.

Beginners need all kinds of help and instructions. How to write a scene, what felt experience is, how tone affects your story, how to read a story from the writers’ point of view, how to develop your characters, point of view, how to publish once you learn the craft of, etc.

I admit it took me years of writing to learn the craft of writing. And here I have only six weeks to teach my beginners just the basics.

For the first class, they learned how to reach their “wild” mind, i.e. the unconscious mind that writes the first draft. Then we went over the arc of the short story. After that we brainstormed ideas for a story they would write. In addition, I asked for them to let me know what they expected to write. One woman took a course in the novel, but she was determined to learn how to write the short story.

The second class we read their stories out loud. It’s important for some one other than the writer to read the story so the writer can hear how it flows. Which is exactly what we did. According the class, that story was done. I didn’t exactly agree with the class. But I feel my job is to encourage a potential writer so I didn’t comment. But further on in this class, I definitely will.

The following class hasn’t happened yet. But I have planned to discuss what felt experience is. That, plus we’ll read the stories I suggested by giving them an idea I’ve used before that was successful.

For many years I taught this course at Glenbrook High School. Then one student wanted a formula for success. There is NO formula for success, and if there is, please share!

People are very busy these days, and the short story has regained interest. After all, one can read a short story in one sitting.

Do you have an interest in writing? Specifically, do you have an interest in writing the short story? Take a class. Join a writing group. Lastly, start writing!
Sue Powers has 21 fictions published. She’s been awarded a Fellowship and grant in Prose from the Illinois Art Council, and two of her stories were nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Do You Hear Me?

Can your inner child come out; Listen to Your Characters

Famous playwright Harold Pinter once said when he is writing his plays he doesn’t know who is behind the door until it opens.

Pinter lets his characters tell the story. Well I’m certainly no Pinter, but I can say I have experienced the same. It happens when my first draft is going really well, when it flows effortlessly and my characters are talking to me.  I just need to listen.

Will character X leave her husband? How does X talk, act, think?  If I listen to X, she will tell me.

If I listen, my writing feels unforced and carries with it a certain heat and depth of experience that hopefully resonates. When my writing is forced, it’s uninspired, unauthentic, flat.

Perhaps I’m not always in the right frame of mind when I’m writing. Frankly, I don’t always know until it’s too late. All I know is when my writing is flat, it’s as if X has shut the door and gone into hiding.

And, by God, the silence is deafening.


You’re Disgusting, Darling, But We Love You

humor; blog; women; creative non-fiction

Do you ever feel fugly?  (f….king + ugly.)

If you do, perhaps it goes like this. You wake up and your lids are puffed out from their sockets  (why? are your eyeballs expanding?); the back of your hair is smashed flat while the front sticks up like Medusa; and alas, despite the rigorous tooth brushing and mouthwash gargling you endured last night, your mouth tastes of the garlic-breath meal you ate last night.

Fugly. How does your husband/wife/partner/children stand you? But somehow they do.

They might show it by being super pleased by your success, or just happy that you aren’t lying on the couch in a fetal position.

When you are in a fetal position, or running low on energy, or just plain broke, they might offer to run an errand for you, loan you their car, give you money, make a joke or find a movie to cheer you up.  (Moonstruck please!)

They may even go so far as to tell you how lovely you are. Ah, what courage! What love!

What a beautiful, little lie meant to cheer you up.

Thank you loved ones! I hope I can return the sentiment soon….


How Writing is Like Sex

Woman writing in the zone

Some say that writing is like sex. An idea I rather like. And certainly, the euphoric state one can get into when writing makes me believe it.  Anyway, if you don’t think too long or to deep about it (no puns intended), I think one could make the argument that writing is very much like sex. And that argument might go like this:

– You need to be in the mood to get inspired to write.

– While some writers are in the mood to write every day, your mood waxes and wanes.

– When you’re in the writing ‘zone,’ your wild (i.e. subconscious) mind takes over.

– When your wild mind takes over, you keep your hand moving.

– When your hand keeps moving and the writing flows, everything around you drops away.

– When everything around you drops away, you forget about eating, drinking, sleeping.

– When you can’t forget you’re hungry, thirsty or tired, you’re probably faking it…



Compliments of Guest Blogger, The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer

Slapped into a Nap

I didn’t see it coming. I was just minding my own business getting my paper and pen together, planning the day, and WHAM I was on the couch taking a nap. In retrospect, I should have been better prepared.

It wasn’t that long ago I was assailed by self-doubt. I re-read my current writing project (a mystery called Intimate Murder) and found it wanting. Or rather, the editor on my shoulder said very unkind things about it; he said my writing was pedantic.


Not pithy?

While I slept that night the parts of my brain that conspire against me whipped up a slide show of previous failings, including that time in college when I took a biology test without reading the textbook. At 2:00 a.m. it was presented to me in great detail and deliberation until in desperation I took a sleeping pill.

I remember I shrugged lethargy off when I got up. It’s not as if I hadn’t seen all the slides before many times. I keep them handy in little brain files for those anxious moments when I’m desperate to feel self-assured but need a reminder why I’m not. Like in Star Wars: “This is not the writer you’re looking for. Move along.”

Okay, inertia got the better of me and wrestled my self-esteem into an all-time low of humdrum, which is just barely above apathy.

But I cannot work under these circumstances. It is unprofessional. I demand respect. Where the hell is she? Oh there she is over there with recognition. They’re working on a new slide show with samples of my work and awards I’ve earned. It’s about time. By my age, I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that I’ll never have a bra that fits, but at least I’m sure that I am a writer.

And to the editor on my shoulder, time you moved along.


Whether being pithy or irreverent, the Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer (aka Pat Childers), is an award-winning writer and occasional blogger.

Questions from The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer


by Guest Blogger, Pat Childers

Why do you write? I know why I write. I write for money. I write creative nonfiction for money, but I also write fiction to make myself laugh and so far nobody pays me for that. Sometimes I write to find out what I’m thinking and that can be really scary, but it does help me straighten out my medication.

I’m currently writing a science fiction thriller titled “Robot Love.” I thought of calling it “50 Shades of Robot Love,” but that would make it an entirely different book, albeit entertaining. I’m also writing a mystery that takes place in Chicago about a private investigator named Murray Antoinette. Anyway, I’ve had my picture taken for the dust jacket, written the prologue and thanked the people who helped me. It’s just that stuff in the middle (the actual text) that I’m having trouble with.

But what I want to know is: why do you write? What is it that you have to say that is so insightful, thought-provoking, or entertaining it needs to be shared with as many people as possible?  Do you have a story inside you that will cause a reader to pause and re-read a passage because it is so well said it is startling? Is it plot-driven, character-driven, or written in stream of consciousness like Virginia Woolf? I am anxious to know.


The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer lives in Midwestern flyover country with her dogs. There have been reported sightings of her husband. In between innings of the Cubs game she is working on her web site and can be contacted at

Frenchman’s (Crap) Cove

Pirate 1


By Contributing Blogger, The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer


Many years ago, during my WAA (Writing Avoidance Activities) days, I took three creative writing classes in a row, one I didn’t even register for.  A friend and I decided we would collaborate on an historical romance novel. We figured it should be about 100,000 words, so we could easily knock it out in four months. It would be about a female pirate in the 1800s, sort of between “Frenchman’s Creek” and a bodice ripper.

We then launched a time-intensive search for the perfect names for the lady pirate and the tall, handsome man she would fall in love with. Her name would be Maeve and his would be Claude. The ship would sail out of Charleston, South Carolina. We did extensive research on the ship – it would be wooden with large sails. With these essential details in hand, we began writing.

In re-reading the first page, I discovered that due to missing punctuation or perhaps a dangling participle, the father’s moustache was hugging the rail. Maeve’s startling ultramarine blue-hued speckled eyes were delighting in the wind whipping the sails, and Robert’s leonine sun-drenched yellow mane of hair flapped in the wind. Your teeth are like pearls, he sneeringly said. Gosh, this was harder than we thought. (Apparently, writing a book requires much more than a dictionary and a thesaurus.)

We almost made it to the third page before we gave up.

Not long ago I found a cardboard box in my garage labeled “bad writing.” I’m sure my pirate book was in there along with piles of other poorly written prose. I threw it away without opening it. It takes a lot of really bad writing to get to the good stuff. I should know.


The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer (aka Pat Childers) is a regular contributing blogger who lives in Midwestern flyover country with her dogs, and the occasional sighting of her husband. In between innings of the Cubs game and contributing to this blog, she works on her web site. She can be contacted at