A science fiction writer’s discipline

I’ve been a lazy bum lately when it comes to writing. I can’t quite explain why. I am at a point in my career where I’ve sold some stories and where a few editors would happily look at more stories that I send them. And yet, I can’t seem to motivate myself to get up in the morning and write. I used to be a disciplined person. What happened?

As a way of motivating myself back into a groove, I thought I’d take a moment and write about the discipline it takes to be a writer and when I say “writer” I mean a science fiction writer. One who holds down a full time day job and is also raising a family.

Before I ever sold a story, the only thing I really worried about in terms of writing , was getting a story written and get it out there for editors to read. As I started selling stories, I learned that there is a lot more to being a science fiction writer than just writing. Writing, of course, is the most important part, but there is also the business side of things. And there is networking. And there is research and continuing to improve your craft. And there is marketing what you write. It boils down to a lot of different hats.

I find my time available for my writing life dividing into the following tasks:

  1. Writing fiction
  2. Blogging
  3. Doing research for fiction
  4. Social networking
  5. Writerly business

Writing fiction is clearly the most important and yet lately, it seems like the one I am dedicating the least amount of time to. Blogging is also important to me as it is a way to participate in the machinery of science fiction fandom. I have gotten a better handle on this by making more strategic use of my time. Then there is research. Part of this involves keeping abreast of science and for a while, I was very good at this. Social networking is important: staying in touch with other writers, editors and friends in the field. Then there is writerly business, stuff like submitting stories, maintaining records (for taxes) and the like. Add to these activities the rest of the activities of a typical workday and things can get out of control really fast. That is where discipline is supposed to come in.

As Brad Torgersen said in a recent post on his blog:

…the keys to being a professional are not talent or inspiration as much as they’re discipline, being able to ignore silent doubts about quality, and forging ahead with dogged consistency.

Brad’s got it exactly right. A professional science fiction writer can set aside the desire to sleep in an extra hour, can get in front of that keyboard even when they are not “in the mood”, and once they are there, they can get in their quota of writing and move onto the next task. This, they can do day-in and day-out. It is what makes them “professional.” If I am going to call myself a professional science fiction writer, I should live up to this discipline as well. But how?

One way is to set a schedule and stick to it. I have always had a rough schedule in my mind, but it’s good to get these things down on paper, so to speak. In my imagination, therefore, a typical weekday would look something like this:

  • 5-7am: Write fiction
  • 7-8am: Get ready for work
  • 8-12pm: Day job
  • 12-1pm: Lunch (reading time)
  • 1-5pm: Day job
  • 5-7pm: Family time
  • 7-8pm: Blogging
  • 8-10pm: Unspecified
  • 10-5am: Sleep

One suggestion is simply: don’t write so early. But I am a morning person by nature. Also, I like the feeling of getting that work done before the rest of my day starts. On days where I can’t get writing done in the morning, I go through the day feeling guilty because I know there is a good chance I won’t do it at all. Part of the reason is that by the time the long day comes to an end, dinner is eaten and the Little Man is finally off to bed, I’m pretty tired. I’d much rather get my writing done while I am fresh. And getting it done gives me an early success, which feels good.

Other tasks have been crowding into that window of family time. I find myself running back and forth between rooms to check email or Twitter. I need better discipline there to simply disconnect from the world for two hours each evening. There is a window of time between 8-10pm. That can vary. Sometimes I am just beat and go to bed early. Other times, I’ll read for a while. I’ve got my Vacation in the Golden Age going right now and that is a fun project that helps me to relax and reading issues of Astounding often occurs at lunch and in the evenings during this unspecified time. The blogging time I’ve gotten pretty good about. I’ll write 2-3 posts between 7-8pm and schedule them for posting throughout the following morning.

If you pay close attention, however, you’ll see something missing: no time for workouts. This is not good and I think it shows.

And then what about things like research and the business side of writing? Where do those fit in? It was my intention to try to write every morning, including weekend mornings, but if I am going to do all of the stuff that needs to get done, some things are going to have to change. Part of what may prevent me from getting up early is simple fatigue. Eating better and getting in a workout a few times a week might go a long way to improving my early morning attitude. Then to, giving myself a different set of tasks on the weekend might give my brain some activity other than writing that it can pursue–a kind of mental break. With this in mind, I’m considering the following schedules, one for the weekdays and one for the weekends:

Weekday schedule

  • 5-7am: Write fiction
  • 7-8am: Get ready for work
  • 8-12pm: Day job
  • 12-1pm: Lunch (reading time)
  • 1-5pm: Day job
  • 5-7pm: Family time
  • 7-8pm: Blogging
  • 8-9pm: Workout (3 nights/week)
  • 9-10pm Unspecified
  • 10-5am: Sleep

Weekend schedule

  • 2 hours/day for research
  • 1 hour/day for business-related stuff

On the weekend I don’t set exact times because I want to be more flexible. Maybe I can squeeze in the research (which is typically staying current on New Scientist and Scientific American, although on occasion there is a more specific goal in mind) in the early mornings. Maybe I can do it when the Little Man is down for his nap. I want to leave as much of the weekend free to do stuff with the family as I can, and yet still be able to get in little productive work on the writer side of things.

Now all of this is well and good, but what it comes down to is will I get up early tomorrow and write? Will I be able to develop the discipline required to legitimately call myself a professional science fiction writer?

Even I don’t know the answer to that one. We’ll see.