Musings on the Craft of Writing

►Without which you will fail

Scores of elements can be listed that are prerequisites for someone soaring high in their craft, from ludicrously overpaid sports icons to the world’s deadliest assassins.  There are many essential skills a writer must have in order to produce great work.  The most important one, however, is not all that mystical.  It’s not “inspiration” (however we want to define that).  It’s not witty, flowing prose or enthralling characters.  It’s not complex (but unconvoluted) plots, and it’s as sure as hell not how strongly the writer feels when he writes it.

This single skill, to the disappointment of all of those who believe that lightning will strike and make you a Shakespeare, is simply iron-clad discipline.

True success as an artist means that you’ve accepted that it’s adult-time; artistry of any realm (even being a world-class assassin) means that you must develop serious discipline in order to perfect those 20-30 other serious skills required to succeed. (Being a superb marksman by itself only accounts for a small fraction of the killing business.)  Of course, by ‘succeed’ I do not mean that you got published by a major publishing house and/or sold millions of copies.  That happens with a lot of people who I’d call mediocre (if I am feeling generous).  Nepotism/cronyism/billion dollar religious cults can get any hack to the NYT top 10 list.

I’m referring to becoming someone who produces quality art on a consistent basis.  That only happens when the skills within the craft of writing (or any other craft) are developed and honed through thousands of hours of work.

“Through discipline comes freedom.”  –Aristotle

Becoming disciplined for your craft means making your craft the very center of your life.

Kierkegaard famously stated, “Purity of the heart is to will one thing.”  Excelling at your “one thing” demands that you become increasingly disciplined.

How, exactly?

1) Merely that you must restructure your entire life.  We have no choice but to remove some things from our lives in order to make room for the craft we’re pursuing. The perfection of our craft demands that we spend gobs of concentrated time–each week, each day–improving.  If you only work on your craft casually, or “when you can get around to it”, you can forget about becoming excellent.  You may have some level of innate talent (which impresses everyone when you’re in high school), but if you’re not willing to make it your top time-priority, you will never climb the mountain of your potential.

2) Humble yourself.  Find all of the advice given by those in your field.  Read dozens of books on the craft.  Some will be excellent, a lot will be redundant, and some will even be crap.  But you must force yourself to do a Ph D in your field by researching the hell out of it.

3) Humble yourself again.  Critically assess yourself, regardless of the pain.  As a writer/artist you have taken joy/pride in what you have hitherto created.  Now expose yourself to honest criticism by those with a good eye for it.  Talk to fellow slaves-to-the-craft about your work.  Some people will be off the mark, but you can begin to get a sense of your strengths & flaws.  It’s moronic to surround yourself with those who are too ignorant (or scared) to give you a useful critique.

4) Develop a written strategy.  As you do 1-3, you must have timetables for the evolution of your craft.  Chart out (in Excel or on paper, doesn’t matter) what you will be doing this week/next week… the next 30 years.  You will revise as you need to, but written goal-setting and scheduling is vital for your discipline.

The development of your discipline, contra what crap movie of the week may tell you, will do nothing to hamper your creativity.  Creativity is a state of mind which cannot breathe without sufficient time.  An undisciplined life doesn’t grant freedom, but rather slavery to a dozen useless masters.  If Youtube, Facebook, and reality TV are sucking hours from each day of your life, they are your time-lords.  If your evenings are habitually spent at a pub watching “the game” or yammering with people about trivia, that is a time-lord.

Being disciplined does not mean throwing yourself into a Kafkaesque prison to do your craft.  The disciplined life entails truly living– going for long walks in the woods, spending hours enjoying great books or truly analyzing quality music or a painting.  “Willing one thing” means turning your ship away from a multitude of useless things in order to sail towards that thing which you have made preeminent.  Only when we become disciplined do we have a chance of seriously developing the other vital skills for our craft.  Only then do we have a chance of being professionals.

~Daniel

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9 responses

  1. 1% inspiration; 99% perspiration 🙂

    November 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    • And perhaps a percent or two for planning.

      November 6, 2013 at 11:35 pm

  2. I am so impressed with your writing. I have just spent the last hour reading and re-reading “The Craft”, and have you been a professor? I also printed out the Character-Crafting & the Ennaegram. I will definitely use it. I really found the Muses and Monsters very interesting as well and relevant to me personally. I do not become stressed-out. Art, in all its forms, when I am engaged in it (most all the time) is exhilarating to the point of euphoria. I don’t know what category that put’s me in. I am actually thrilled when I can do anything above what I thought I was capable of doing and I am grateful.

    Thank you for liking my post “What Stephan King Taught me”. Greatly appreciated. I will, so much, learn everything I can from your blog. However, I think there should be another word, instead of blog, to express artistic crafting whether in writing, art craft or music. The sound of the word and how it looks on the page is kinda ugly. Okay – I may be going a little over-board on this but I am an illustrator and I notice those things. Oh, I am now following you:)

    November 9, 2013 at 11:41 am

    • Hi Karen. Thanks a lot. Nope, I headed toward academia for years, then veered off. The world had moved on. 🙂

      November 9, 2013 at 1:27 pm

  3. Pingback: Time. | Daniel Ionson

  4. I agree with you about the Discipline aspect, Ion. However, I think writers also need Courage – to make the sacrifices necessary to set up the discipline; Perseverance – I rate this higher than raw talent; and Resilience – the ability to bounce back from rejection..

    November 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm

  5. Hi Danielle,
    Yes, I agree that we need all of those things, and more.
    Daniel

    November 15, 2013 at 5:54 pm

  6. Time-Lords…I’m surrounded by them. Thanks for visiting my site.

    November 16, 2013 at 8:23 am

  7. Pingback: The Magic of the Mind, P2: Willpower | Daniel Ionson

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