Recovery and Discipline

I should have seen it coming. Last week was a very busy week—hustling hard to finish a short story and a beta read, novel edits, starting another short, plus assorted dayjobbery. I battled hard all week long—late nights, terrible food, too much coffee, the usual—and then I crashed.


Hard enough that I’m still catching my breath. It brings back a perennial dilemma: the fine balance between pacing and striving, taking it easy and putting in the hard work, being kind to yourself and getting your butt in the chair.

Around the same time, I saw a post from my dear friend Tee Morris

Sometimes, as a writer, you have to make a tough call. There’s what you want to do, but that sometimes has to take a backseat to what you need to do.

Is writing a hobby or a profession? Which walk are you going to walk?

When you have to step up, step up. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and energy.

Completely different context, posted for completely different reasons, but coming at a point where my nerves were pretty shot anyway—I’ll admit to feeling kind of bad about myself. I’m a professional. I’m an artist. Writing is my job. Why was I making myself mussels and binging on Desperate Romantics?

Because recovery is part of discipline. Think about Repetitive Strain Injuries. When you use the same muscles over and over, they get stressed. You need to allow them time to recover. You also need to change things up every so often: using different muscles, or performing a different movement. That’s how muscles actually develop. Otherwise, you end up getting all sorts of fun strains, tears, and sprains that can put you out for a good while.


Strained thumb (mine, last month, from pesto). NOPE, NOPE, NOPE.

Now, it’s easy to bash through things on brute strength. Similarly, it’s easy to stay on the couch and let those muscles atrophy. In either case, it’s inertia. Once you’re on a path—either one of motion or stillness—you tend to stay on it.

What’s hard is moving between the two. What’s hard is balance. What’s hard is swallowing your weird pride that you’ve stayed up until 2:00 am every night (and seriously, how messed-up are we that this makes us proud?). What’s hard is not comparing yourself to others: others who may be working harder, longer, faster.

As I see it, discipline in anything—writing, exercise, music—is about long-term habits and growth. Hence the focus on consistency and getting into habits—think of the Magic Spreadsheet, or NaNoWriMo. These things are great. As we said, inertia: it’s hard to get the ball rolling, at first.

But for that long-term growth to be…well, long-term, you need to not kill yourself in the process. Here’s what I’m slowly learning, as I navigate this early career stumbling-about:

…there are two parts to the writing life.

There’s the active part: the butt in chair, the striving, the late nights.

And there’s the passive part: the consuming other art, the walks in nature, the sleeping.

And you need both.


If you’re only passive, you’re not producing. If you’re only active, you’re probably producing crap. The Oatmeal had a wonderful comic about a similar experience, likening the creative process to breathing in and out.

You need both. In and out, yin and yang, night and day. That’s the real key. And it’s much, much harder than going full-tilt, one way or the other. What does your balance look like?


What I’m Listening To This Week

It’s been an old nugget: Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” I love the range of emotion in this piece—from the sombre, almost funereal opening melody (around 0:30, I’m thinking rain, not moonlight), to the aggressive arpeggios in the third movement (listen to the runs of notes starting around 11:20—just listen!).

And yet it all hangs together. *swoon*


Posted on September 26, 2016, in Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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