Self-Discipline. Ok. What Now? Can We Buy Some on E-Bay?

Don't make me toss you in my well....

Don’t make me toss you in my well….

Yesterday, we talked a bit about self-discipline. It’s one of my favorite topics namely because it took me so long to get it figured out. Also, we live in a culture of quick-fixes and fad diets. We idolize the rare few who “rocket” to fame. In Robert Greene’s FABULOUS book Mastery he even mentions how our society’s almost developed a general disdain for plain and simple hard work. We’re a culture of day-traders, not investors. Thus, in a world of instant, it can be really easy to get discouraged when the *POOF* *Glitter* *Ahhhhhh* magic doesn’t happen.

Success is mostly elbow-grease, and most of us can’t afford to hire Buffalo Bill to toss us in a well and hose us when we don’t make word count. We have to be self-directed, self-motivated and self-disciplined. That isn’t natural. It goes against our natures, so we have to develop this area if we want to succeed at anything.


We Must Be Wise How We Train

Self-discipline is in us, we just have to strengthen it. It’s a muscle of character. Don’t start Day One trying to have the discipline of a Shaolin Monk. That is a formula to fail. Start with small steps. It’s one of the reasons that I believe blogging is wonderful for new writers in particular. Blogs are great for training self-discipline muscles, for showing up no matter how we feel or what craziness is going on.

Craziness will always be present. It’s called life. If we wait until everything calms down before we can write? We will be writing from the afterlife.

*chains rattle because I'm typing*

Publishing Purgatory—they let you go when you finish the novel.

We Must Be Mindful To Progress

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.

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 drive from DFW to California, but I’m on I-35 North and refuse to give up and change highways, I’m not persistent, I’m a moron…who will end up in Canada or even the North Pole.

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.

Set a time-limit. If your first book has taken the last four years of your life and you’re still not finished? Shelve it. Move on. Learn. Write more books. Likely, you’ll improve with the next books and can go back and fix what was missing from the first one.

Failures must be stepping stones, not tombstones.

Many writers hang on to the first manuscript because they fear failure. It isn’t failing, it’s learning. It took me five years to let go of my first novel (the one banned by the Hague Convention as torture). I felt if I started a new novel, then I was a failure. A quitter. No, the first book is often our training wheels. Let go and skin some knees and elbows. Yeah, it hurts, but pain is a great teacher.

Successful people quit stuff all the time. It’s knowing what and when to quit that makes the difference.

Action First

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. Act first, then the feelings will change and finally the results change.

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.

What are your thoughts? Where do you struggle? Are you afraid of failure? What do you do to maintain your discipline?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, 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 once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!


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    • Lanette Kauten on June 11, 2013 at 7:27 am
    • Reply

    Good motivational blog. I shared it on Twitter.

  1. You are a wealth of information. I have gleaned so much valuble info from your blogs. I am a sponge soaking it all in. Thank you…….thank you….thank you!!!!!

    1. Thanks. I try to help you guys because it took me forever and I had to learn it the hard way 😛

  2. I’ve published two NF books with major publishers — but also wrote at least four (more? too painful to recall!) full proposals that never sold along the way. So it made me a better proposal-writer.

    “Failure” is annoying and wearisome and no one can throw you a party for it. It’s culturally taboo as we never seem to talk publicly about struggle when most of us do it along the way to becoming visibly successful. If more people spoke up and out about process — good and bad — there might be fewer fantasies of “instant” success.

    The best book on this is Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. She is a choreographer, but her larger points apply to anyone producing creative work out of thin air. Discipline is huge for her, as it must be for everyone.

  3. Amen, amen. My soul resonated with your article. Hard work is much under valued. But I would not choose anything different.

  4. Great motivation, Krista! I dug in with that first manuscript through 138 rejections before I gave it up as a training tool. But I don’t regret it. The lessons learned have served me well.

  5. Yeah. …kind of wishing you’d have written this 10 years ago when I was hanging on to my first book! So true and grest advice

  6. So true. I’m working on the getting up early so I can write before my daughter is awake. I’m so not a morning person, so it takes a fair amount of discipline not just to ignore that alarm! I think few things in life that are worth having are easy.

  7. My emotions do get the better part of me at times, but only if they’re RIGHT IN MY FACE! Which doesn’t happen very often, and usually Muse is louder. I have a set word count for my day, but it’s attainable because I’ve trained myself to reach it over the last couple of years. I don’t go over it either, and if I don’t reach it, I’m not going to cry. Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.

  8. I have started keeping a weekly to-do list. At the top of it, I write the days of the week and cross out each one, as I write on that day. At the end of the week, I see the reality of what I’ve accomplished. I’m getting a lot more done.

  9. My motivation comes every time I enter a brick and mortar bookstore and see all the titles by so many authors that once were just like me, an aspiring author. I know I can and will be there very soon. I will succeed, I know it is just finding the right publisher with the right proposal.

  10. Many a day I would have liked to buy some self-discipline from e-bay, or maybe access all the will-power I’d saved for a rainy day. Instead I’m reading craft books, doing classes (like blogging for brand which has been great), and the best thing I have done is got myself a great editor (hope she doesn’t see that sentence…)
    Her suggestions weren’t easy to implement, and I had to read a few more craft books to get my head around tight plotting. But I have learned a great deal; I try and maintain a semblance of discipline by reminding myself everyday how lucky I am to be a writer – and that writers, write.

  11. Reblogged this on Justin Kassab.

  12. Great write up. It is true that there is no shortcut to success, you have to put in the time (plan on 10,000 hours to start 🙂 ). Thanks!

  13. Thanks for this post today. As someone who struggles with both self-discipline and that fear of failure, this post is just what I needed.

  14. Reblogged this on The Grizzly Kid and commented:
    I struggle with self-discipline and a fear of failure. In the same boat? Check out Kristen Lamb’s blog post.

  15. I have gotten down to one post per week because of work, but I refuse to let go of that one post per week. Next week, as the work pressure eases off, my goal is 2. I can do this.

  16. Why can’t we have an American Idol for writers? I am sure that would make life so much easier.

    • Aerisa on June 11, 2013 at 8:42 am
    • Reply

    Thanks, really enjoying this series. Spot on as always. Looking forward to your next post 🙂

  17. Thanks for the reassurance that my 5 manuscripts still have hope. I picked my least favorite to be my writing project for the last two years and I’ve learned so much through trial and error, editors, critiques, and reading blogs like yours. That MS is now by far my best one, and I know how to fix the rest. My whole life I’ve failed and adapted until I don’t fail. Something I picked up living in the streets (homeless, not gangster). Don’t give up, I can do anything if I just figure it out. That stubbornness has allowed me to come a long way in life, and now my future is writing. Thanks again for being a light in the darkness, despite the creepy pics, which are awesome.

  18. Starting slow and then increasing as you grow is so vital. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped in way too deep and then burned out. Sometimes it would take months to return to the same project.

  19. Loved this blog. Shared it with my readers and friends on FB. Thanks for the honesty and wisdom. I couldn’t agree with you more!

  20. Wonderful post. I really liked the advice “fail forward.” My friends and I were just discussing this after I had my first B&N appearance for my debut novel. Only I see the success in my debut novel.
    I wrote the book, I am proud of it. My local B&N allowed a very small book from a tiny pod publisher have an author talk. The audience laughed when I said something vaguely amusing and I sold a couple books. My friends were not impressed, but in my mind it was just another baby-step forward.

    For myself, I am amazed at how many authors disregard all the hard work and self discipline it takes to write and sell their novels. More than once in interviews, I hear successful authors talk about how “I never set out to be an author but oops, I accidentally wrote a book (or two or three) it magically appeared in the market place and now everyone loves it. Teehee!”
    It frustrates me, because this accidental author speaks directly to my fear. When I get stuck, a little voice in the back of my head whispers: “This is hard for me…I’m not a real author. It just flows for real authors.”

  21. Reblogged this on ZB's Blog of Awesomeness and commented:
    This is a wonderful post about self discipline by Kristen Lamb. Check it out!

  22. I may get smacked for saying this and I am in no way, saying I am a great writer( not published yet!) but I am more afraid of success than failure. Once you succeed, you have to live up to it and what if I can’t, what if that is all there was inside the convoluted labyrinth that passes for my mind?

    • kanmuri on June 11, 2013 at 9:17 am
    • Reply

    I have a hard time with discipline. I’m great at elaborating schedules and perfectly planned systems but I rarely follow through. I burn myself out within a month. Now I realize this and I’m trying to find better ways. It’s a work in progress.

    • Ash on June 11, 2013 at 9:22 am
    • Reply

    I can honestly say I am terrified of failure to the point that I write solely for myself. 🙂 And it’s not so much 3rd party failure but the judgement of family and friends that have expectations. I think it plays into that thought of *POOF SUCCESS* that people think should happen.

    1. My family thought I was nuts. Most didn’t talk to me for two years. They’ll get over it. If you want to be successful at anything, especially writing, you have to grow rhino skin and ignore the opinions of others. A lot of people will sabotage because if you DO reach your dreams, you validated that we all have power over our destinies. Many people want to believe they are victims of outside forces, because then they can shirk responsibility.

  23. Not afraid of failure as I’ve heard too many stories of successful people who were told at first what they wrote was no good. Feelings are probably my biggest barrier as sometimes I resist writing, because it forces me to deal with them. I try to overcome my feelings rationally and be aware of them, but sometimes it’s not enough to write through them. Life is just hard right now. When I am more disciplined, I have found it helpful to set smaller goals to meet…like write 500 words a day. If I go over that, then I’ve gone above and beyond.

  24. Hi Kristen! I absolutely love your blog because it’s REAL, funny and full of wisdom. I see several people let you know that they re-blogged, so I guess you’re OK with that! I just had to ask first – Is it OK to reblog? I’m not necessary a writer, but a collector of images and stories from around the world, so I would really LOVE to “hook” up with people like you THAT HAS THAT GOD-GIVEN TALENT. Read your testimony on how you finally gave up military and started writing…so thankful you did! 🙂
    ~ Love, Nina !

    1. You guys are always welcome to any of my content so long as you give attribution. Share away! 😀 Love you, too *hugs*

  25. Personally, I struggle with self-discipline because of the tradeoffs involved. When I’m on shift out west (14 days straight in a work camp away from home, doing 12 hour shifts with a half hour worth of bus ride on each end) the only way I can really find the time required to write is if I get less sleep. Since I already work with six or fewer hours of sleep in order to fit in a healthy exercise schedule, that doesn’t always feel like it’s a worthwhile option.

    Conversely, when I’m at home (13 days off in a row) I find it hard to write because I feel as though I should be enjoying my husband and daughter as much as I can while I have the chance. I feel that if I choose to write, that my writing is more important than spending time with them.

    It’s a tricky balance. I’ve been managing, but not in such a way that I see success in my future. What I REALLY need is to figure out how to survive on about four hours of sleep a night. Anyone else want to go on a joint venture figuring that one out? 😛

  26. Sometimes I think you are psychic saying just what I need to hear, but I just realized that as a writer that makes me an emotional unstable validation/attention whore and everything pertains to me LOL
    This is great advice and really helps me re-focus. I must admit I have recently started doing guided meditations and listening to sleep programming and subliminal message stuff in order to get out of my own way an develop some self-discipline I had an awesome week, then two days of fail- but I shall flip over so I am failing forward 🙂

    1. LOL. Love that! “I just realized that as a writer that makes me an emotional unstable validation/attention whore and everything pertains to me.” RIGHT?

  27. I’m trying to jump back into the writing game after some hectic time away. For me, the biggest challenge is sitting down at the computer, TURNING OFF THE INTERNET, and ignoring errands, laundry, and mundane things-to-be-done. Which I shall start right after I scan my favorite blogs, take the laundry out of the dryer, and eat lunch.

      • kanmuri on June 11, 2013 at 10:36 am
      • Reply

      KerryAnn, I find that going to coffee shops to write help me focus. It makes it easier to ignore all the house chores. Plus you’ll feel silly paying 5$ to drink coffee while surfing pinterest 😉

  28. Kristen, I always enjoy your inspirational posts,

    My father used to tell me “Self discipline builds character and makes you a stronger person.”
    Self discipline is hard work, but it’s ALWAYS paid off for me.

  29. Discipline is not a problem for me so much as lack of energy. I write for an hour (or less) and want to take a nap. I’ve get plenty of sleep, eat right, exercise, drink coffee, but I still feel like nodding off. It’s frustrating because I have so much work to do.

    1. Cut out gluten and see if that improves.

      1. Yes! cut the gluten! It helped me immensely!! 😀 I now have insomnia issues, but they are MINOR compared to being so tired all the time.

  30. Discipline has been a problem for me. I need to remember, action first. I’m trying to get the creative habit. Rereading Twyla Tharp.


  31. Great post! However I believe knowing when to quit is key. Persistence does pay off. Take Kathryn Stockett. It took her five years to finish her first novel The Help, and 60 rejections before it was published!

    1. But she was doing meaningful revisions. A lot of authors are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. There is no core story problem. She was persistent, but in a way that was changing the manuscript for the better. If an author hires a professional editor to help guide them what to change, then sure. But The Help is a serious outlier, so we do have to keep that in mind.

  32. great post, Kristen. not getting distracted by emotions is a major failing for me. I try to have a couple of stories in the mail at once so that if one gets rejected, I don’t hide under the covers and stop writing current project. then again revising multiple projects is difficult as I get characters confused. writing is fun, but hard work for the mentalpause-addled brain…

  33. I LOVE the Stephen King quote! Really though, I’ve been so much happier with my writing since I discovered the truth of hard work. Hard work pays off! And this is applicable to every area of life.

    • Julia on June 11, 2013 at 12:37 pm
    • Reply

    This is excellent! Discipline is not my strong suit, but thanks to you, Kristen, I am now blogging 6 out of 7 days – writing my posts ahead of time and scheduling them. I’ve started pre-writing my next book & going deeper in studying story structure, etc. I attacking this with beginner’s mind… which is also a struggle for me – but so necessary!

  34. Failure is to teach us things. It means to keep trying until you get somewhere no matter how long it takes. The person has to have faith, courage and self displine. Kristen, you nailed and thanks for writing great blog pots. I always read them and share. 🙂

  35. Act first. Novel concept. Pardon the pun. It is a shame that hard work gets such a bad rap.

  36. Thank you very much, this was spot on. I especially liked the “action first, then feelings” reasoning. Today I have taken up two projects who have been lying there without my attention for a while. Reading your post gives me energy to perhaps work with them also tomorrow, and the next day, and the next … and some day, I will be done!

    Greetings from Ola and Sweden

    PS. Of course you know this one but I cannot resist to recommend it, since it gives similar help as you do – DS

  37. As always, awesome post! 🙂 I love getting my daily dose of Kristen Lamb. It can be tough to swallow medicine sometimes, but soooo beneficial! 😀

  38. For a Daily Routine, I like the 250 words. During November it is 2K a day but a mad rush the last week to do the 50K on NaNoWriMo. I have done the three or four days of 5K a day in November to get the NaNoWriMo certificate, but I do not think that I can keep up with 30 days cold turkey. I will try the 250 words a day until November. I thank you.

  39. As always, you are right on. Thanks.

    • Debbie Johansson on June 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm
    • Reply

    Self-discipline has always been my major weakness simply because I let my emotions get in the way. I always try to overcome it with over-realistic goals and wonder why I never reach them, thus feeling like a failure. As I’m currently experiencing the ‘dip’, thanks so much for the inspiration Kristen!

  40. I keep telling myself everything you just posted. Thank you for reinforcing what I knew to be right! Now I have to go and write something for my blog.

  41. Hail the Yoda of my writing life. This Obi Wan is grateful for the “kick in the seat of the pants” and vows to implement all wisdom from the Master. May the Force be with us!

  42. Awesome post. Makes me feel better about ditching my first novel. Thank you.

  43. Thanks for the post. I’m think I’m currently struggling with the unreasonable word count goal. I’m a teacher, so the second summer begins I expect my word count to increase a thousand-fold. 🙂 Maybe I should be a bit more realistic.

  44. Finding time to write with all the demands I have is a challenge. I have a group of WANAs and DFWCon peeps who try to do writing sprints during breaks and lunches–we check in on Twitter. I love it! Those bursts are precious to me, because that’s how I carve out time to write on really busy days. Great post!

    I laugh when I think about my first novel. It will never see the light of day. My second one took forever to write (with a really long break in there), but it’s not done with me. It needs revisions, but I have other stuff to write first. 😀

    • Heidi Haaland on June 12, 2013 at 6:55 pm
    • Reply

    Great post. Will tweet. Thank you.

  45. I find it hard to maintain a balance over the long term. I tend to do the very thing you mentioned early in the post, setting too high a target at the start. I manage to stick with it for a while, but then burn out. I eventually get back on the horse, but the feeling of failing to hit my targets can be very demoralising.

    One tool I’ve started using recently is – it’ll probably only make sense for people who’ve played computer or tabletop roleplay games, but it uses the systems of cumulative rewards that make those games so addictive, and uses them to help develop self discipline.

  46. Love this quote! “Amateurs wait for inspiration. The rest of us get up and go to work.” ~Stephen King. Just hopped over from Chloe’s interview with you – thanks so much for the honesty and inspiration. You cut through a whole lotta crappola, which was quite refreshing. 🙂

  47. It’s interesting, this post is pretty much a recap of many things you’ve said earlier, but it is such a wonderful recap. And hilarious, too!

    • Future on June 11, 2013 at 7:32 am

    […] Self-Discipline. Ok. What Now? Can We Buy Some on E-Bay? Don’t make me toss you in my well…. Yesterday, we talked a bit about self-discipline. It’s one of my favorite topics namely because it took me so long to get it figured out. Also, we live in a culture of quick-fixes and fad diets. We idolize the rare few who “rocket” to fame. In Robert Greene’s FABU … Tue, 11 Jun 2013 07:17:00 CDT more info… […]

  1. […] Self-Discipline. Ok. What Now? Can We Buy Some on E-Bay?. […]

  2. […] you lack self-discipline, you are not alone. Kristen talks about how to buy some on eBay. Uh, no, that doesn’t sound […]

  3. […] « Self-Discipline. Ok. What Now? Can We Buy Some on E-Bay? […]

  4. […] the whole writing scene. Kristen Lamb explores how to get past the “dip”—and how to gain the self-discipline to keep going. Speaking of writing discipline, Faith Mortimer explains the benefits of writing […]

  5. […] I wonder how quickly that idea shatters as soon as they realize it is actual work. A while back, Kristen Lamb talked about self discipline on her blog and honestly that’s what got me thinking about […]

  6. […] I have learnt, from the post I read today, and Kristen Lamb and others, is that the key is to fail forwards. Learn, move on, don’t dwell. It’s okay […]

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