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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Does Discipline Improve Writing or Increase Resistance?


When my next Writing Habit class starts on March 12th, about half the students will say they’re taking the class because they need more discipline or will power. Most of them will be relieved when I’ll tell them that we aren’t going to focus on discipline and will power in this class.

“I’m not big on discipline,” I usually say. “Discipline and will power have failed me too many times; I don’t trust them. As anyone who’s ever been on a diet knows, you can hold off chocolate with discipline for only so long before your will power is exhausted.

“That’s why I rely on habits. Once you have a habit, it won’t let you down. Habits are more effective, more fun and a lot easier than discipline.”

What Is Discipline Anyway?

I always wonder what students mean when they say they “need discipline.” I don’t want to put anyone on the spot in the first half hour of our first class, so I refrain from asking “What would it look like if you were a disciplined writer?”

What does discipline mean to you in relation to your writing? Do you consider yourself a disciplined writer? Why or why not? I really hope some of you will comment because I’m not sure if my perspective is skewed or typical.

To me, discipline usually means forcing someone to do something, demanding that the person “buckle down and get things done,” threatening “or else” and delivering that “or else.” Self-discipline is doing those mean things to yourself.

It seems to me that discipline is code for punishment. And punishment is hugely ineffective.

My next post will explain why punishment so rarely works, how it can actually drive you away from your writing and reveal the surprising aspect of discipline that writers really do need.

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3 Comments on “Does Discipline Improve Writing or Increase Resistance?”

  1. lynnettedobberpuhl March 5, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    I get what you are saying, I think. My ideal of self-discipline is that I could effortlessly walk away from all the distractions and temptations that stand between me and the blank page, or the revision task, and feel rewarded for doing so. I don’t think this is realistic; I can’t just shut off distractions and temptations. However, by posting things on my blog, and interacting with followers and other bloggers, I have felt sufficiently rewarded to make regular writing a 4-5 x a week habit that I enjoy enough that it pulls me away from the TV or internet browsing. Discipline, in and of itself, is not rewarding for me. Feeling connected with other people is. Writing itself is rewarding but also troublesome because I always want it to be better than it is.

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    • rosannebane March 5, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      Thanks Lynette. Your insight about rewards is working for you. One of the reasons discipline doesn’t work in the long run is that the reward of feeling virtuous fades so fast. I encourage you to stay focused on feeling connected and the other rewards. The struggle with always knowing your writing could be better is a tough one. It can be difficult to tell if what you’re hearing is the voice of discernment because the writing really needs revision and can be strengthened or if you’re hearing the voice of judgement and the Saboteur (voices that are never satisfied and best ignored). You might want to look at this post about the difference between discerment and judgement: https://baneofyourresistance.com/2011/07/29/jettison-judgment-and-develop-discernment-to-reduce-writers-block/

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  1. Why Writers Need Habits, Not Discipline to Overcome Resistance « The Bane of Your Resistance - March 2, 2012

    […] Writers Need Habits, Not Discipline to Overcome Resistance In the previous post, I explained that I’m not a fan of discipline (aka punishment). Here’s […]

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