Self-Discipline–The Key to Success

One thing I hear people say over and over is, “I wish I had self-discipline.” I even hate to admit that those words often come out of my mouth, too. In previous blogs I have confessed that I used to be reigning queen of Do-It-Later Land, a sad realm nestled in the Post-It Note Mountains. Over the past couple of years, I’ve managed to change a lot of bad habits, and I am much more productive. How did I do this? I finally understood a couple of core principles, which I am going to share with you guys today.

If we really take a hard look at successful people, are they really just so much more talented? Lucky? Gifted? Maybe. Yet, one day something life-changing stood out to me. If we look at a lot of the best-selling authors—James Rollins, John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Tess Gerritsen, James Scott Bell, Bob Mayer, Amy Tan, Allison Brennan (to name a few), what do we see?

A bunch of big names. Noooo. What do we really see? Aside from all the best-selling titles?

James Rollins—a former veterinarian and now an avid explorer, spelunker and diver.

John Grisham—criminal lawyer and member of House of Representatives from 1983-1990.

Michael Crichton—doctor and graduate of Harvard Medical School.

Tess Gerritsen—graduated Stanford then went to medical school at University of California. Practiced medicine in Honolulu, Hawaii.

James Scott Bell—formal trial lawyer later taught as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine.

Bob Mayer—Graduate from West Point. Served as a Green Beret and leader of an A-Team. Also runs marathons.

Amy Tan–Pursued a Doctorate in Linguistics. Left the doctorate program to consult for the Almeda County’s Association for Retarded Citizens. She spear-headed a language development program for the retarded. Later Tan started a very successful business writing firm.

Allison Brennan–Consultant for the California State Legislature, and later a homemaker who reared FIVE kids…and kept them alive and clean and out of jail while WRITING NOVELS.

Sure this is a group of highly intelligent and creative people, but look at the backgrounds. What do they all have in common? Perseverance, self-discipline, and the ability to put off short-term gratification for long-term reward. The ability to be self-directed. Veterinary school, medical school, law school, Special Forces training, endurance sports, homemaking and successful entrepreneurship all require the same elements. The exact character traits that make a successful doctor, lawyer, soldier, mother or consultant are no different than the character traits that make a successful writer.

It is all in a change of mindset.

In my almost 10 years of working with writers, I’ve met a lot of highly intelligent, supremely gifted writers. But, after talking to them fifteen minutes? I know they won’t be around very long. It is clear that despite talent, they have life attitudes and habits that will always keep success beyond their reach unless they change their approach.

Successful people are willing to get up earlier, stay up later, work harder and never stop. They will outpace their competition every time. Why? Because self-discipline isn’t a once in a while thing, “Oh, I was so good today.” Self-discipline is the foundation of the successful life….not an accessory worn when we feel particularly inspired.

So do you have self-discipline? It is easy to say “no.” I know my nature is actually quite lazy. If left to my own designs, I am so lazy I think my heart might stop. For years, and years I had so much trouble staying focused. I would “be good” for a day or two and then would fall off the wagon, roll under the wheels and get caught up in the axle of said wagon until someone heard me whining and cut me free.

Yeah…not pretty.

Then one day I understood something so fundamental that it changed everything.

You have self-discipline. I have it. It is part of who we are. Confused? It’s okay. Try this.

Unless you have suffered a birth defect or tragic farming accident, you have a bicep muscle. If you can use your arm, it means you have a functioning bicep. Now, it might be puny and withered and buried in fluffiness…but you have a bicep. So do I. So does every person on the planet with functioning arms. Yet, unless you USE your bicep, train it, feed it good nutrition and vitamins, it won’t do much more than move your arm. To have strength and tone…you must exercise your bicep so it can grow stronger.

Same with self-disciple. The more we use it, the stronger it becomes until it is tough as iron…just like our muscles. So some simple principles:

We Must Be Wise How We Train

Just like working out our biceps, we must be wise how we train our self-discipline if we hope for long-term success. If I wanted to build my bicep and I went to the gym and did 500 curls with a heavy dumbbell, then who is the REAL dumbbell? My arm would be sore and likely injured, and it certainly wouldn’t inspire me to want to return to work out. Self-discipline is the same. Don’t start Day One trying to have the discipline of a Shaolin Monk. That is a formula to fail.

We Must Be Mindful To Progress

Just like curling the same dumbbell eventually can cause a plateau, self-discipline is the same way. Make sure your goals get progressively more difficult as time goes on.

Start with small goals and progress from there. Small successes inspire us to try harder, bigger, better tasks. Too many writers start out with some stupid word count goal that is destined to fail long-term:

I am going to write 5000 words a day.

What happens is they burn out and hate their writing (been there, done that got the T-shirt). Start with 250 words(one page) six days a week and go from there. If 250 was way too easy (like curling a 1 pound weight) then adjust until it is slightly beyond comfortable. Once that word count becomes easy, increase by 15%….just like weightlifting.

This works for any self-discipline. Don’t go on a diet and cut every last unhealthy thing out at one time. Start with lowering the number of sodas and increasing water intake. Then no soda. Then onto no fast food. Easing into these life changes helps make them life-long habits. Just like writing 5000 words a day cannot sustain a career, eating nothing but celery and protein shakes is no way to eat for life.

Learn to Fail Forward

Failing Forward by John Maxwell is one of my favorite books. Successful people are successful because they have a healthy relationship with failure. They view it as a learning experience, reevaluate and then try again, and again and again, each time modifying the approach. Persistence is more than not giving up. There is a fine line between persistent and stupid.

If my goal is to climb Mt. Everest but I’m on Mt. Shasta and refuse to give up, I am not persistent, I’m a moron.

Yet, how many writers keep shopping the same manuscript that’s been rejected time and time again? They refuse to dig in and do the tough revisions or move on to a new book and in the end it kills their success. The first book is often a learning curve. Use it. Learn from it. Fail forward.

Failures must be stepping stones, not tombstones.

Don’t Let Feelings Vote

How I managed to change my life around was I learned to stop consulting my feelings. They no longer get a vote. I don’t wait until I feel like writing. I write. Writers write. I don’t go to the gym only when I feel like it. I get exercise. I plan on being a career author and that requires me to be fit, healthy and relaxed.

I look at the old Kristen and want to go hide my head. I waited for inspiration on everything and that’s why I had a lot of messes and very little victory.

People have a mistaken understanding of how life works. Most of us believe the feeling comes first, then the action and then the change. Heck, I did.


Action is always first. Action, then the feelings will change and finally the results change.

I always tell myself, “Kristen, I know you don’t feel like going to the gym. You only have to get on the treadmill 10 minutes and, after that, if you are still tired, depressed, etc? You can go home.” In three years I have gone home only once. 99.9% my feelings change as soon as I get moving.

Feelings are a horrible guide. Feelings can be affected by diet, weather, activity level, the news, traffic, PMS, kids, cat puke in our slippers. Feelings are a terrible compass. Are they important? Sure. The bumper on my car is important, too, but it makes a lousy navigational system.

Just remember, “Amateurs wait for inspiration. The rest of us get up and go to work.” ~Stephen King.

So the next time you look at those authors you admire so much, you might rest easy knowing that you very well could be just as talented. Talent isn’t something we can much control. But, this is good news. This means, then, that the only things separating us from the Author Big Leagues are life habits that we can control. And that is FANTASTIC news!

What stumbling blocks do you guys face? What challenges? Any tips or tricks to share? Great books to read about self-discipline? What is your success story? I want to hear! Are you a reformed slacker, too?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.


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  1. I’ve gotten to the write-no-matter-what stage, so that’s good! But I haven’t been as successful with the working out yet. That’s my next goal. And, um, not drinking so much wine. But first! Working out. At least if I’m working out every week (other than walking the dogs, which doesn’t really count, although when I’m lazy I tell myself that it does) I probably won’t feel like drinking so much wine 😉 I suppose it would also work vice versa.

    I did manage to get myself of all processed sugar though, and that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Now I can’t even stand the thought of a cupcake, much less the smell of one 😛

  2. Hell yeah! I’ve given up on weekend lie-ins. I get up early and get to work. I could happily sit and write all weekend long if I didn’t have to do annoying things like eat and sleep.

  3. I’ve been in a rut of 1k words/day and running 5 miles/day. But guess what? I will increase my % of both, I’m adept at “failing forward” and I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂 Thank you for another wonderful post. And my recomendation to you? Stop beating yourself up about the “old Kristen”, she’s an important part of who you are now, what makes you approachable and human to your fans. Love, Tonia

    1. I totally dig Old Kristen. She is proof we aren’t doomed, LOL.

    2. If 1k/day is a “rut”, then I must be in the Marianas Trench! 😉
      Kristen, I just found the site, and it really spoke to me. Keep the encouraging articles coming!

  4. Once I started treating writing as a 9-5 job (well, 10-6, for me) , I became a lot more productive. It definitely takes determination and self-discipline. I sit at home all day, and I could just sit on the couch, watch cheesy romances, and play video games, but I don’t. I get up, eat breakfast, shower, and I start writing. I don’t stop until my husband gets home from work and demands dinner. 😉

    Like you say, if you set impossible goals, then you burn out fast. It’s important not to overwork yourself. I started writing my current novel with the goal of 1000 words a day. I slowly moved to 1200, 1500, and then 2000 words a day. I also made the decision to work slowly and deliberately, editing as I go. Eventually, I got better at it, and I started writing 2500 words a day, and then 3000. Now, I’m rounding out at about 3500 words a day. It’s a pace that I know I can keep up, because I can do it consistently. As long as I have the self-discipline to stay at my computer and write, finishing a novel is easily in my grasp. In fact, I’m extremely close to finishing the first draft of my steampunk romance. Just two chapters to go!

    I think another important thing is to celebrate little victories. If you manage to exceed your goals, then celebrate. Take pride in finishing a scene or a chapter.

    A novel is written one word at a time. We don’t vomit forth bestsellers.

    1. This is so me! I started thinking, if I could just write 500 words a day five days a week. I’d have a book finished someday. Well I do, but during the process I worked up to 2k per day. Now I’m trying to do 3k and its killing me. I stopped writing because my goal is too high for me to encompass. I think I need to go down to 2.5 and be successful. Maybe next year 3k. or more!

  5. “Successful people are willing to get up earlier, stay up later, work harder and never stop. They will outpace their competition every time. Why? Because self-discipline isn’t a once in a while thing, “Oh, I was so good today.” Self-discipline is the foundation of the successful life….not an accessory worn when we feel particularly inspired.”

    I just printed this out and stuck it on my computer, in my journal, in my novel notebook. Thanks so much for your continuously inspiring words!

  6. This post was meaningful to me today. Thank you!
    My recent favorite book I’ve read on success is Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. The chapter on 10,000 Hrs of practice was especially fantastic.

    • essayel on August 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm
    • Reply

    I’m still a slacker. I should be fiddling round with writing the synopsis for my first ever story submission. I’m procrastinating at the moment because I’m scared of doing it wrong. 😀 It’s quite useful to know that and I’m trying to change.

  7. My latest challenge is adapting my writing habits to different places and different times of day. For awhile I had a writing “studio” (also a guest room) but when that was full of boxes during a garage remodel, I had to get out of my writing-only-in-the-studio habit. It was hard. My new goal is to be able to write anywhere, at any time, on a laptop, nasty notebook for high school, diary book, whatever. A routine is a good thing, but not when it limits you.

  8. Lady Kristen

    Wise ye be, aye and wiser. And it would be foolish of one so lack wit as I to disagree with any word ye speak 🙂

    Which is why I rarely do. Mostly I nod, try to pretend to be wise by infection, and smile :-)).

    But, and I guess it’s really a matter of perspective only, This:

    ‘If my goal is to climb Mt. Everest but I’m on Mt. Shasta and refuse to give up, I am not persistent, I’m a moron.’

    May, or may not be true. Depending on Mount Shasta.

    Let’s go back a bit. Let’s say:

    ‘If my goal is to climb Mt. Everest but I’m on the climbing wall and refuse to give up, I am not persistent, I’m a moron.’

    Does it carry the same truth? Getting up the climbing wall is something I’d ratted well be better be _able_ to do if I ever really want to climb Everest. If I haven;t and I’m still trying I can:

    1: Decide I’ll never climb Everest

    2: Decide climbing the climbing wall isn’t what I really need to do and book a flight to Nepal.

    3: Get up the damn wall.

    Even on Mount Shasta, I can use what I learned not completing Casaval Ridge to make Avalanche Gulch even easier. Then go back to Casaval, knowing I’ve got to the top at least.

    I shopped ‘A Comedy of Terrors’ for a year. I’m not here to advertise, so I won’t say where I shopped it. But Smith’s Law #2 says ‘if you can’t win – change the victory conditions’. So now it comes out in July 2012, and it isn’t self-published (not that I have anything against self-publishing) or vanity pressed.

    If I’m on Casaval, and I can’t walk the Catwalk, I’ll never make Misery Hill. If I can’t walk Misery Hill, I won’t summit. But does that mean I should stop climbing Shasta, and book my ticket to Nepal?

    Yes. I know. I’m a bad person. And that’s not what you meant at all :-).

    1. LOL…great point. But the example is to make sure you are on the correct mountain. Sometimes it isn’t “giving up”, it is realizing we are doing something terribly WRONG. We need to make sure we are on the correct mountain we are trying to summit, because if we are in the wrong place to begin with, even victory is defeat.

      1. Lady Kristen

        Indeed so. But sometimes, the first problem is recognising what the mountain really is, so you can change it :-).

        It may not be what I’m doing, it may be the way I’m doing it.

        It may not be what I’m doing, it may be the ‘why’ I’m doing it.

        It may not be what I’m doing, it may be me.

        To change what you’re doing wrong, you first have to work out what the wrong thing is – and it may not be obvious. If I’m left handed, and I play guitar, do I:

        1: Get a left handed guitar

        2: Turn a right handed guitar round, but reverse the strings (Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney)

        3: Turn a right handed guitar, and play the strings ‘backwards’ (Bob Geldof, Elizabeth Cotton)

        Yes. I know. I’m a bad person :-). But, before you change your mountain, make sure you’re changing the _right_ mountain :-).

        Oh. And I can;t play guitar either. Left _or_ right handed 🙂 :-).

        1. Yes, but I think we are saying the same thing. That’s why I said persistence alone is not enough. Successful peolpe study why something went wrong and then readjust and try again. They don’t just keep doing the same exact thing without giving up. I think that is where a lot of writers panic. They believe if they change something, somehow they aren’t being persistent and that isn’t the case at all. Never giving up is not enough. We have to pull the problem apart and look at WHY it is going wrong.

          I know my first novel was a disaster. But I had this mistaken belief that if I moved on and started a new novel that I had failed. “There goes Kristen. She never finishes what she starts.” What did that earn me? 4 years shopping a novel that was never publishable in the first place. But I felt if I rewrote or moved on to a new novel that I was a slacker. Real growth came when I moved on. I began to grow as an author when I gave myself permission to write that first bad novel.

          1. Lady Kristen

            Of course we are indeed saying the same thing. But how many times does one so lowly as I actually get to initiate a ‘conversation’ with one of thy majesty, as opposed to just replying? :-P.

            Oh – and if any reading mis-interpret, I really mean it about the majesty thing. Lady Kristen is one of my most frequent wisdom watering holes – and that means me drinking :-).

          2. No, I love it! You always have such fantasitc and thoughtful comments. I really, really appreciate them…really :D.

  9. Despite feeling very tired from not sleeping well last night, I guess I will pull up my WIP and just go for it. This post is the second kick in the butt I’ve gotten today. I can take a hint. 😉

  10. Great post! And let me tell you, your “don’t let your feelings get a vote” could just as easily apply to my attitude to exercise. 🙂

  11. Thanks so much for this inspiring post. After eons of trying every weight loss method known to man I finally found the self-discipline to lose 60 pounds and keep it off. Your comparison of lifting weights and working out to writing is spot-on. It was exciting when I had the aha moment that a writing discipline can impact a weight loss/work out discipline and vice-versa. I only wish I’d realized this sooner. I hope your post resonates with people and gets them working toward their goals in a manageable, long term way — like now! Unstoppable by Cynthia Kersey is one of my favorite success books.

  12. I haven’t had a day off from writing something in ages and just when I thought I’d have the weekend off you post this 😛 You’re a hard task master. During the holidays I’ve got better at writing early or late or slow afternoons which is good because there are diggers in the yard, things are crazy round here. Have a great weekend Kristen!

    1. Rest is also very important, but you guys don’t want to read a 10,000 word blog, LOL. Make sure you are taking time to recharge your creative batteries. Creative rest is work and very different than goofing off ;).

      1. Thanks Kristen, how about we have some new hashtags #creativerest and #goofingoff. Will anyone dare to use the latter?

        1. I think they would use the second one more than the first one…even though we NEED creative rest. I think that is a blog, don’t you?

          1. I know, I for one, would love to see a post by you that defines “Creative Rest”. I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen that particular subject covered and you’d be the perfect one to take it on Kristen.

            • shawn on August 12, 2011 at 7:53 pm

            Creative rest: reading sci-fi, playing video games that have a plot, a mystery dinner, going to an art museum, a concert, the ballet, you get the idea. Your brain is still engaged just in a different capacity.

  13. So true that we need to be disciplined in all areas of our life to be disciplined in one. Something that helped me early on in my writing career was having deadlines at the newspaper. That made me put my butt in the chair and write when I needed to. Now I set my own deadlines and take them as seriously as the ones that used to be imposed on me by my editor at the paper. Not that I do that perfectly every day, but I keep pulling myself back to it when I go too far astray. Which means I need to get offline now and back to work. LOL

  14. I hear it so many times on loops; I only write when I have an hour or more available. That used to be me. I would look at the clock and know I only had 30-40 minutes before I needed to be in the car to go somewhere, or the husband would be home, or yada, yada, yada. If you want to be a writer you need to see even 15 minutes as an opportunity to throw down some words. Don’t waste a minute of your writing time.

  15. Great blog. Reminds me why I stay at this even when it really doesn’t make any sense from a reasonable point of view.

  16. I’ve always been driven and willing to work hard, but becoming a parent (twice) really taught me patience, and that the best-laid plans often go awry. I’ve learned that in addition to working hard, I need to be flexible and cut myself some slack. I know this seems to go against what you’re saying, but I think writers tend to be perfectionists, and perfectionism can be just as detrimental as laziness.

    As always, a wonderful and helpful post!

    1. Not at all. That was why I made the point of understanding that we need to be healthy about failure. Life happens. we need to be flexible. So we don’t make word count o r have a few lazy days where we gave into goofing off. It’s done. Dust off and get back at it. All or nothing thinking is very detrimental. Great point!

  17. Your ‘eating healthy example’ is spot on. I managed to cut my soda over a matter of weeks by switching to ‘Real sugar’ (Which the only stuff available was Sierra Mist, and that stuff is NASTY.) which automatically cut the number I was drinking, and then I just. . . stopped. I can still count the number of sodas I’ve had in the past two months on my hands. It’s a great feeling.

    The other awesome thing is how a little self discipline actually creates it’s own reward. I looked at my word tracker spreadsheet the other day and realized, in less than two months, I’ve written 10,000 words. And that’s not even ‘complete’ as I had a computer issue that may have corrupted part of the file and I’m not counting my blogs or other types of personal writing, only fiction. It’s amazing to see that.

    • aliceakemp on August 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm
    • Reply

    A perfect time to read this. I’ve just finished a 20,000 word novella and am waiting for a beta read. Good excuse to do nothing, right? No! I can at least work on the rough outline of the next story – I have lots of notes and an unformed plot. Time to start making progress. thanks for a good kick in the ***!!

  18. Awesome post!!

    I’ve never believed in writer’s block. Brain surgeons don’t get up in the morning and think “Gee, I have surgeon’s block today. I think I’ll stay home and play sudoku.”

    I still need to work on self-discipline with sugar. I have a bucktooth-sized sweet tooth . . .

    1. I love it. “Gee, I have surgeon’s block today…”

    2. It was the “bucktooth-sized sweet tooth” that cracked me up!

  19. Love this post. But without: “I plan on being a career author . . . .” the focus can’t be there. Somewhere on the vast internet I recently read something about one of the most important things for writers to do is be very, very clear about what their intention is. A pleasant afternoon noodling with words once in a while? Fine, if that’s all you want. A pleasant afternoon noodling with words once in a while, and a long-standing desire to be a published author? Epic fail. You need to become clear on the intention. I don’t find self-discipline to be much of a problem if I know what it is I want. My problem is some rat-nest snarl of conflicting desires and lack of self-confidence. Got any good advice for that? Thanks for the gift of your love, Kristen.

    1. Excellent point, Susan. Bob Mayer helped me a lot. His Warrior Writer classes actually inspired this blog (yes, was a total fan girl). But actually intent and goals are VERY important…in fact, they are life and death.

      My advice on your problem, confidence comes with action. We don’t first feel confident then do, we do then gain confidence. Let your feelings whine and do it anyway ;).

  20. Great post. I don’t always have time to stop by, but when I do, I know it was written for ME! Thank you.

    The quote I love to use is: You Must Be Easy To Start And Hard To Stop. A friend of mine from my prior corporate life taught me this. And it makes up for all the talent we might lack when we get started. Talent is, in my opinion, highly over-rated.

    Never quit.
    Never surrender.

    I now a few of our special forces who subscribe to that motto, and it seems to work just fine for them.

    1. I LOVE THAT QUOTE! And I totally intent to use it. Awesome. Thanks for that, Sharon. I always love it when you stop by.

      1. And it’s a physics kind of thing — bodies in motion, stay in motion — I’m thinking fingers and brains do too.

      2. Thanks, Kristin. And I did KNOW better with my last sentence.

  21. Good advice as always Kristen. I’m a “recovering” lawyer in my other day job and so your list reminded me that I do have experience (far off memories) of trudging forward and studying for hours for exams, writing essays, doing hours of research, etc. But at times I have found it tough to trudge forward, day after day, with writing when I don’t yet have a publishing contract. I don’t have a deadline imposed by an editor and I have yet to receive any external rewards (like $$) for all the hard work.
    In college and graduate school, your hard work results in good scores and perhaps awards and honors. In work life, hard work results in financial rewards, prestige, etc. I have found my life in school and professional industry has trained me to look for external rewards for hard work.
    Part of the journey for me as a writer is to re-train myself away from looking for external “reward” and look to the internal reward that I get from writing: it feels good! And feeling good IS good.
    Yes, of course, I’d love to win awards for my writing and/or sells gazillions of copies of my books and most of all have readers tell me they enjoy it.
    But before any of that can happen, we writers have to focus on the internal rewards to motivate us to keep at it, day after day, chapter by chapter.
    Thank you for reminding me to stick to it because you can’t sell a book if it’s not written yet!

  22. My goodness this is so true. I am a workaholic. I work all the time because that’s how I’m going to get from where I am now (1 full time job, 1 part time job, family, and writing) down to 1 full time job OF writing. It means getting up earlier, staying up later, butt in chair, hands on keyboard for pretty much all of my waking hours (because all of said jobs require a computer). It’s easier to have the self discipline to sit my fanny down and write. Harder to make myself to things to keep myself healthy, like hauling butt out of bed before dawn to exercise–because there’s no OTHER time to do it. I talk about efficiency a lot on my blog and others have held me up as a model of self discipline. I think it boils down to the fact that I’m just plain stubborn. I want this, darn it, and I’m gonna do whatever I have to do to get it! I think the hard part is not letting all those things we HAVE to do, interfere with the creative side of the things we WANT to do.

    1. Kait, I’m trying to get my husband to build a laptop station attached to our treadmill — I’d walk slowly while typing, it would be safe. But I am a firm believer in twoforing — doing two things at once, if possible.

      Kristen — I really do love your posts. Even when I think I know the stuff, you have a way of saying things that resonate and make me want to achieve more Thank you.

      1. I love the concept of that but I don’t think it would end well for me. I’m SO not that coordinated! I can read and exercise but the rare time I tried to TYPE and exercise, it ended badly!

        1. I know — I have a tendency to fall UP the stairs, but I really do think I could do this…slowwwwly. Maybe not./ Maybe doing two things at once results in two things done shabbily.

      2. Sharon Louise has this treadmill setup going and she said it ROCKS. You should hit her up on Twitter at!/_SharonLouise_


    2. Go, Kait!

  23. Great reminders! Thanks so much for this. My life has been thrown off by an injury lately and I find I miss the physical discipline I’d established. Time to apply that to all areas of my life, I think 🙂

  24. Great (and timely) post!

    It’s so important to make writing a priority if that is what we truly want to do. I love the reminder.

  25. This is what I needed to hear today Kristen. As always, you are in tune with the rhythms of the writer universe.

    I recently completed Bob Mayer’s Write It Forward class and your words are very in line with the incredible wealth of lessons I learned through it. Change, discipline and success are all things we can enact, build and achieve. Each is fully attainable by simply placing our will behind our words and, for lack of a better phrase, “get it done”, but get it done forward.

    Thanks for the big glass of brain food Kristen. You continue to be the best.

  26. AGREE 100% – “Learn to Fail Forward”

  27. One of the lessons of “failure” is discovering the importance of timing.

    I shopped a NF book in 2000 that 19 publishers turned down; it sold the following year when the marketplace was more receptive to the topic. I write only non-fiction, and with a background in daily newspaper journalism I look for book ideas that are timely — that I can research and produce within a year. I look for a sweet spot between what interests me and the zeitgeist. I think many “failed” writers forget that the world changes constantly and our interests as a culture do as well. If your timing is off — i.e. trying to sell your beloved idea into an uninterested marketplace of ideas, it’s not going to happen, no matter your persistence or dedication to that project.

    • Tamara LeBlanc on August 12, 2011 at 7:35 pm
    • Reply

    When I saw the procrastination image at the top of this post I got all excited…not because I’m a fan, but because I’m the president of procrastination and just recently discovered how to impeach myself.
    If something was due in 3 weeks I usually waited 2 weeks and 6 days before doing it. I’d end up pulling my hair out, stressing over it and biting everyone’s head off that tried to talk to me while I worked on that last minute project. I’d drive myself and everyone around me insane while finishing it, but I’d casually brag that, “I work better last minute.”
    Um, no…to be honest, that was a load of crap.
    I work and feel soooo much better when I’m organized. The stress is lifted and the growling subsides.
    My kind of procrastination was simple laziness. It had nothing to do with a lack of time. And for ages I was fine with that. But recently everything changed.
    I received a full request from an agent I really liked at RWA nationals this past June. She was incredibly easy to talk to, the books she represents are books I enjoy and she really, really seemed interested in the premise of my novel (haven’t sent it yet because I’ve been revising some chapters that I felt needed more conflict)
    Anyway, it seemed the minute I got her full request (and two others) a light went on in my head. Why that happened this time and not the many other times I have no clue, but instead of getting nowhere with procrastination I hitched a ride on the self discipline train. And boy did that puppy fly!
    Now, every morning I wake up, say good bye to the teenagers,have a barrel of coffee and then start typing. I make sure I write from 8:00 until noon every weekday and at least two hours every Saturday and Sunday. I’ve never done that before, EVER. And 9.9 times out of 10 when I sit down to write now, the pages just keep coming.
    it’s awesome!
    I’ve never had a job before, so I had no idea that organizing my time as though I really have one would be so darn effective. Forcing myself to look at writing as I job that I do in an AC/DC t-shirt and oversized boxer shorts while I’m listening to the birds sing and swilling java on my screened in porch has been a revelation.
    I am suddenly very productive and amazed by how good being organized and disciplined makes me feel.
    So now that I wrote a small novel to you in comment form (sorry bout that, but you inspire me) I’ll say farewell, shift from web to Word and give my WIP a little extra love today.
    Thank you so much for your wisdom.
    Have a wonderful weekend!!

    P.S. Loved the bicep and exercise analogy…you’re so good at those:)

  28. Another great post and a timely reminder. I’ve been doing much better about the diet thing the last couple of weeks, I started making one small change and maintaining it, and then building from there.

    I love the analogy of self discipline being like a muscle. Makes it seem not so elusive.

    Now to turn the self discipline on and the perfectionism off in the writitng…

  29. I don’t know how you do it woman, but it you always manage to know exactly where I am. I just finished Eat that Frog! and Focal Point by Brian Tracy as well as Getting it Done by Andrew J. Dubrin. All were quite helpful. I’m well on my way to cultivating a much stronger sense of self-discipline. I have a thirty pound weight loss to show for it! I know my writing will be the greater for it too. Thanks for another great post. 🙂

  30. Great post, Kristen! Fantastic reading for a Friday afternoon when I’m feeling like calling it quits for the week…(Not that working non-stop, around the clock is the thing to do!) Love your definition of self-discipline: the foundation of the successful life…not an accessory worn when we feel particularly inspired.

    And you’re absolutely right – feelings can’t be consulted. I’m a major procrastinator when someone’s not giving me a deadline. Self-imposed deadlines are too easy to blow off. I do best when someone holds me accountable!

    Thanks again for the encouraging post! Write on!

    • J Ogaick on August 12, 2011 at 9:03 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you.
    This post has made my day. Failing doesn’t feel as frightening now. Self-discipline might be an achievable goal.


    Thank you.

  31. Great approach to discipline, Kristen. I understand the professional writer writes every day. If I am away from it, time is wasted in reviewing the progress. one needs to finish the first draft first before revision.

    I am in the process of re-organizing the the plot, as I had two different scenarios. Then someone taught an online class on social media, (smile) and I had to plan for managing surgery yesterday. And the dog would have eaten my manuscript it I let him! 250 words a day is enticing. I will try it! Thanks.

  32. Great post. 🙂

    • Christine Carmichael on August 12, 2011 at 9:42 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, you’ve made me de-lurk twice in one week.

    I’m lucky enough to be able to write for six to eight hours a day. How other writers do it with kids, careers etc., I have no idea. I bow down before them, seriously, I do.

    Writing is a sedentary occupation (nothing like stating the obvious) so discipline comes in many guises.

    Exercise is key and I can’t say I love it. But three times a week for forty minutes, I use weights, do lunges, lower body and upper body strengthening moves to keep me fit. Three times a week I walk at a brisk pace with my ipod for at least an hour. You’d be amazed at how many ideas, scenes, dialogue etc pop into your head.

    Mulling over and creative thinking is also part of the process. So is HAVING A LIFE, something a new writer tends to forget.

    Burn-out can be an issue too, especially if you’re on a roll and the muse is sparking. I’m talking about the exhilarating high of a creative spurt that lasts for days. The trouble is, it can leave you punch drunk and exhausted. I believe this might be where learning your craft comes in. The craft of pacing yourself, taking breaks and working the logic line of the story. Yes, get the ideas and give the characters their heads, but keep an eye on the goal. I’m not sure if I’m making any sense here? I’ve just gone through a week of a high that’s left me dazed.

    I’m in the last third of second revisions on an 80,000 word story, and it’s all coming together. But now I need to step back from a dark moment, to mull it over and re-think the use of certain word choices. I want to grab the throat of the reader, not make them want to slit their own, lol! I’ve sent the scene out to two trusted readers who are emotionally strong women, rooted firmly in the now and not known for being over emotional. But I know if they’re affected in the right way, I’ve hit the spot. Or not. Sometimes we need another eye cast over a particular piece of work.

    I won’t look at the work again until Sunday/Monday because tomorrow I’m spending quality time with my daughter – a girly shopping day. Sometimes we need to step away.

    One thing I would say, is that each day is different. When I’m in the middle of a discovery draft it can rock along at a pace. The key is to get to the end without stopping. This is usually when my ‘feelings’ start to dig me in the ribs. It’s taken time to learn to close them down and then begin the creative process with the work, which is the most exciting part for me. Although I’ve found revising, this time around, even more exciting. Never thought I’d ever say that!!

    Great post, Kristen, you help keep it real.


  33. Loved the part about feelings. A wise friend once told me never to make decisions based on your feelings. They change. Make decisions based on your values. What you value you should act on. Feelings come and go but your values remain at the core.

  34. I have a whole file of quotes from you! I’ll add Stephen King’s to the list. They are just like sunshine when I’m starting to gloom over. Thanks for the awesome post!

    • LJ on August 12, 2011 at 10:41 pm
    • Reply

    The only blocks I have are the day job and family. But I’ve learned to work them all in. I’m pretty happy if I get in 1K words a day. Some days are more difficult than others, but that is my daily goal and it keeps me going. There have been some late nights and tired mornings, but they are so worth doing what makes me happy.

  35. I have to say, this comes right when I’m locking down my own discipline short-comings on writing and exercise. I’ve recently started Couch to 5k to build up my running stamina, and was looking into ways to do the same for my writing. With the ideas I’ve garnered here today, I believe it can be done.

    Your site is filled with so much useful information. So much so, I’d like to recognize you with a blog award. You can pick it up here at my writer’s group blog, The Parking Lot Confessional:

  36. “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    Maybe this would work for self-motivation as well?

  37. I am well known for bouncing between type A super perfect life starting right NOW and doing nothing. This year I have been working very hard to set small reasonable goals- thanks for reminding me as I’m currently in a slump.

  38. Excellent post. I’m on a break from my WIP. The last part was a bear to produce, Need to flog myself into stepping back and working on a short piece that just crawled out half-formed.

  39. ROW80 has been great for my self-discipline. Highly recommend it to anyone who wants up their goals and thinks the love and support of 100 other writers might help them! Love this post as it has allowed me to look at my PhD in chemistry (which up until now was considered a useless appendage for a writer) in a positive light!

  40. I approach this with simplifying my life. I have three goals. Book (and appurtenant social media), health, home. Anything that doesn’t strengthen those three is out for now. And as for self-discipline, I have to set very simple rules for myself, and not many of them. I’m not allowed to change out of my gym shorts in the morning until I’ve actually gone to the gym. I’m not allowed to open social media until I’ve posted my blog. I’m not allowed to go to sleep without having worked on my WIP. Bottom line rules. Anything else that tries to get into my day isn’t allowed until the book is done. Then I intend to play computer games and level up my little character who I haven’t visited in months. But only for a week or two. 🙂

    1. Piper, you’re awesome. I love how committed you are to your three goals and you truly do your best to make them your priorities. Thanks for sharing this with us. I will use your examples to better discipline myself.

    2. Piper, this is AWESOME. Since my gym shorts are hideously unattractive, this would absolutely get me to the gym and home before my husband hit the scene in the evenings. 🙂

      Sheer brilliance…

  41. Amazing & very helpful post! My husband ate up Failing Forward, and then leant it out 🙁 I hope to get it back soon. Your recommendation, plus his = MUST READ.

  42. Success is not serve in a silver platter. It is a hard earned, consistent , dedicated work that involves self descipline. When we persevere despite of the odds, we will reach our goat . Some sooner for others, others may take more time. Beautiful post!

  43. In life, but especially in the publishing industry, we are faced with rejection or feedback that does not always feel constructive. It’s easy to get discouraged and give up or slap on blinders, pretending that everyone else in the world “simply doesn’t get it”. Playing the never-ending waiting game doesn’t help our psyches either.

    Every obstacle, every rejection letter, every contest scoresheet where the judges didn’t love you is an opportunity for growth and learning.

    So my motto is: Never defeated, only empowered.

    I have to admit that I will put your quote on my wall: Failures must be stepping stones, not tombstones.

  44. Some great advice here, Kristen. Sometimes I just need to read an article like this to nudge myself back on track. Thanks!

    • Betsy Marro on August 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm
    • Reply

    I’m a new follower. What a great place to start! I am finishing my first novel ‘for the second time.’ The good news: I’ve finally absorbed the lessons that you put forth so well in this post. The bad news: not sure this book will ever see the light of day but feel compelled to complete this revision. My current incentive for finishing involves the hand-off of the manuscript to an editor who can tear through it while I move on. The novel has shown me that I can show up for work every day and that the writing does get better when I do. I want now to move on to new projects. I am thinking now about your reply to one writer here about how you could not permit yourself to move on until you had “finished” your first book. I will keep it in mind as October approaches.

  45. Great post. Since self-publishing in March, my writing schedule has changed dramatically. I need to set limits on promo/formatting so I can get to the good stuff…writing! I do exercise 4 times a week because exercise keeps me sane. Thanks for all the great tips.

  46. Kristen, I only have time to say a quick thank you and again express wonder at how you nail issues in your blog every time. Now I have to dash and collect all of my scattered post-it notes, make a plan, and stick to it!

  47. I’ve been treating writing as a job for a while, and was patting myself on the back and feeling so proud. But I was pushing too hard too. I set my goals too high because I have all these stories in my head and want them on the page and perfect. I also know that that successful writers are prolific and i wanted to be prolific. But that kind of thinking only leads to failure, I’m going to do what you say and start setting reasonable goals then increasing them by 15% when I get too comfortable. Better to write 500 words per day than to worry that I’ll never get to 2K and so will be a failure because I’m not prolific enough.

    Thanks for this blog! You’re amazing. 🙂

  48. Thank you so much for your post. I also struggle with self-discipline. Now that I’m working outside of the home in a pretty-much nonwriting field, my writing has diminished greatly. I had to give up my writing with deadlines, but I do hope to continue working on my books and blog posts.

    Oh, BTW, just for the record, “bicep” is actually not considered a word. The word is “biceps” whether it’s one arm or both. However, the dictionary has added the word bicep because of common usage.

  49. Failure should be stepping stones, not tombstones. I really like that. Hits home with the inner voices I’ve been battling lately. Thank you for this post; you have no idea how much it applies to me right now and I will absolutely be taking this advice. The support network of fellow writers who offered their tips for overcoming meltdowns and how they cope and make progress gave me lots to think about. I’m looking forward to coming back into writing with better priorities. I see it as now is my opportunity to prove myself and get the flow up and running before the stress of the holidays comes around too.

    Thank you again immensely!

  50. Hi,
    A fantastic read. I also believe in goals, and as you have said start off small and build up. I had one goal that took nearly 20 years to achieve, a lot of smaller ones in between, but I eventually got there. 🙂

  51. There is comfort in structure. I think if your writing pattern isn’t established it is too easy to become overwhelmed. Great post.

  52. Judging by all the comments above, you struck a chord, Kristen.

    Your principles of self-discipline are all good ones, and the post inspired me to check a lot of little chores off my list, including getting some exercise before sitting down with my laptop. While swimming a few laps in a crystal clear pool on a gorgeous midwestern day, several great ideas for my WIP came to me, followed by gratitude to your for the post; as well as gratitude for the sun and blue sky, for good health and the joy of a good swim, and most of all for being able to choose to do what I want, including writing for a few hours.

    Surf out to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project at (sorry, I don’t know how to make that a live link in this comment) of women who have to fight for that choice. Reading their stories helps my self-discipline immensely.

  53. This is so very, very true. It’s taken me ages to learn self-discipline, but after three years of graduate school I’ve gotten much better about adopting a routine of working, writing, and grading, even when I don’t feel like it. Now that I’m trying to make my foray into writing fiction, I’ve found that those skills transfer over. By starting with small, achievable goals, and ramping them up as I become more comfortable with my abilities, my progress has grown by leaps and bounds.

  54. I can’t even remember how I stumbled onto this blog but am I glad that I did. The goals I had set before for myself were a little too excessive. Reading over your points and making adjustments, more sensible chunks at a time I found great comfort and productivity has changed greatly. Fantastic encouragments, fantastic books, thank you for your work!

  55. This is a great post. I love how you used the names of those famous people and showed how they are “normal” just like the rest of us.

  56. Absolutely true! Fear of failure in the past often kept me from trying hard in areas where I wasn’t certain of immediate success. But one of the great things about baseball is that a .300 batting average is really good, meaning that you only hit the ball 1/3 of the time. So if I keep working at my game and keep coming up to the plate, so to speak, I figure I’m going to make contact with the ball — enough times to equal success

    It’s not a self-discipline book per se, but the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has had a huge influence on helping me think about working harder and smarter. Great post! Thanks for the encouragement!

  57. Kristin, I’m drinking in every word. And I love that you mention Mt. Shasta from time to time.

    • Ruth Nestvold on August 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm
    • Reply

    Great post, Kristen. Butt in chair is more important than anything else, but we all need to be reminded of that regularly! I hadn’t heard about “Failing Forward” before, and I’m definitely going to look the book up.

  58. There’s a time for everything and everything has a place. There’s a time to work and a time to play. There’s a time to procrastinate and a time to work hard. Yes, discipline is essential and so is rest. We just need to find a balance between the two. 🙂

  59. Holy late to the party. Today I sat on my butt for 12 hours writing. I didn’t eat or drink. Not good.

    But I got things done.

    I am very disciplined with my work — my teaching and my writing. But my family suffers. I’ve been going to town while my boy is at summer camp. One more week of crazy productivity and then back to my usual 2 hours a day. With a timer.

  60. I’m all in.

    I think this is a great post and wrote up my own thoughts on my blog on applying this. Plus a link to your book!

    Keep it up MYWANA!

  61. Hi Kristen!
    I’m a fairly new reader to your blog, but you’ve been on my blogroll since I found this site.

    This post struck a chord with me. A few months ago I undertook my first real steps toward self-writing-discipline by writing a 50,000+ word novel in one month. I was inspired to do this by the book No Plot, No Problem by the founder of National Novel Writing Month. (I decided I didn’t want to wait for the actual NaNoWriMo in November.) Trying to make a quota of 1,600-1,700 words per day was simultaneously one of the more frightening and liberating experiences of my life. And when I was behind and surged forward with 5,000 words or more in a day to catch up, it was positively exhilarating. I recommend trying the novel-in-a-month for anyone who wants to develop the self-discipline for a fiction writing career.

    Now I’m working on expanding and revising that first novel, which requires learning a new type of self-discipline.

  62. You’re speaking my language on this post, Kristen! Thanks, as always. 🙂

  63. Best thing I ever did was start journaling one sentence a day seven years ago. I’ve improved a bit since then.

  64. Hi Kristen, thank you so much for this post. I read it on Monday when I was feeling a bit down and stressed out, but something struck a chord with me and I wrote about 800wds on Monday and 1,650 words yesterday! This is a miracle as I’ve been suffering from ‘writer’s block’ for months. The block is now no more and the work-in-progress is moving forwards! Yeay!

  65. This is such a great post, Kristen. I love it!

    It’s the day in, day out of consistency that really makes the difference in our lives.

  66. I’ve just got my hands on Failing Forward, Kristen – another superb shout! Thanks x

  67. This is what I have been struggling with. Africans we are used to talking as opposed to writing and above all our reading culture is very poor. It is through reading that one learns more. Kristen, where I can I find your book? Loyce from Uganda

    1. Loyce, here is the link to my publisher where my book is on sale. It’s the best deal. Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I hope these blogs help you learn faster :D.

  68. One request Kristen, look at my blog and give me feedback to improve it. Thanks

    • A guy wants to be self disciplined on March 26, 2014 at 3:08 pm
    • Reply

    Your blog was really helpful!
    I’m a failure, a huge failure…..i have set unbelievable goals for me. Goals way beyond my comfortable zone. I set these stupid goals when I’m inspired…..feeling invincible. I say to myself, “bring on the life, I’m not scared.” Lol but when i wake up in the morning I’m just tasting disappointment. Too much workload sets me off! But now…..i think i know what to do. Thanks a ton!

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