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The YouthPLAYS Blog

Self-Discipline for Writers

December 26, 2015
Playwright, novelist and poet Hayley Lawson-Smith, author of Warriors, discusses the various ways playwrights and other writers find the motivation to keep writing despite challenges and distractions.


Self-discipline is probably one of the hardest things to maintain when one works for oneself. This is particularly true when you're a writer and more often than not set your own deadline, create your own ideas and attempt to set a healthy work/life balance. The constant distractions of housework, family, day jobs, and even the great outdoors are a constant temptation to walk away from writing when the words just won't come.

After publishing his novel Puckoon, Spike Milligan quipped that he could understand why so many writers became alcoholics, and even as I write this I’m scoffing popcorn and iced coffee as a constant reward for every single word typed.
 
The fact is that, no matter how much any of us love to write and find solace in hiding away in a corner creating imaginary worlds, the practice of our chosen art can be a hard slog. Being a successful author has very little to do with how much money you make; it's far more about the quality of the work, and that is not a skill easily taught. It can be disheartening as a writer, knowing you could spend months or even years on a particular piece of work which a) might never see the light of day, or b) might never make you a single cent, because there are very few paying jobs for writers outside of journalism and any paid gig for a writer comes with heavy competition.
 
How, then, to maintain self-discipline and force ourselves to achieve the hours of practice required to be satisfied with our pieces, while also being happy, content human beings?

With the rise of social media and websites such as Buzfeed and Distractify, fitting in a solid day's work of writing may seem like a daunting task, as we all sit down at our desks, turn on our computers, and…procrastinate. But, like champion sportswomen and men, playwrights often maintain certain habits in order to write. One particularly skilled playwright I know only ever writes in her pyjamas, and whenever I see someone at my local cafe with a laptop or pen and paper in their hand, I wonder if they are using, as I do, the white noise and atmosphere to get some writing done.
 
I asked the question about writing habits and strategies on social media and was answered by various writers who admitted they also have helpful quirks when it comes to finding fresh enthusiasm to work. A common inspiration seems to come from music, with playwrights listening to tunes which fit the themes of the scripts they are developing. One writer uses Word features as a motivational tool, such as checking the word count every so often and finding encouragement as it goes higher and higher. Another playwright suggested carrying pen and paper at all times so that ideas for dialogue and plot lines are never forgotten. A habit which seems to be shared by many writers is that of consuming food, with playwrights noting that they start their writing sessions with their favourite foods and reward themselves with sweet treats in their break periods. I can attest from experience that this practice works for me, although it might not be so great for one's waistline (she says, while shoveling popcorn crumbs into her mouth).
 
One last, and far more healthy, habit suggested is to take advantage of a writing block by walking. This is a pleasure I love indulging in, particularly as my writing partner—a 30-kilogram German Shepherd/Boxer Dog named Annie—insists upon her daily adventures and doesn't mind the odd break to sit down and write. Just as long as I throw the tennis ball every 30 seconds or so.

These habits are utilised in order to keep the brain awake, to keep ideas fresh and to keep our enthusiasm running high, but they are certainly not the only writing habits a playwright might suggest; everyone has their own writing schedule to keep to.

Taking all this into account, I believe the main rule of thumb for playwrights is to just keep writing, to get into your own groove and find your own niche so that the joys of writing will far outweigh any misgivings you may have about your work.

And if everything else fails, remember: the rumour is even Hemingway had to be locked naked in a hotel room to get any writing done.

-Hayley Lawson-Smith

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