Why Book Writing Requires Leaps of Discipline
Starting a novel requires a leap of faith. Finishing it requires discipline.
In between? That’s where leaps of discipline come in. They come about through a strange combination of hard work and letting my mind wander freely enough to connect seemingly unrelated dots. And they vary quite a bit in size and importance; what may initially seem like a major plot point might shrink to a few lines of dialogue by the final draft.
I’m a seat of the pants writer, so there are always passages in my first drafts where nothing really happens. As I wrote in a blog post a few years ago, “sometimes the only way to find out what happens next is to keep typing.” (Read more.) Once what happens next becomes clear, those meandering sections have to be edited out, and those edits require a small leap of discipline: that what remains on the page can stand on its own.
Filling plot-holes usually require making far-flung connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or events. On the endless journey to a final draft, the only people helping me identify the most important aspects of a story are my characters — and they’re almost as likely to jackhammer a fresh plot-hole as they are to steer me toward the finish line. Leaps of discipline are the only way to muscle through the middle’s muddle, the only way to connect what is already on the page to what will, hopefully, seem like the only logical conclusion.
Biggest leap of all
All leaps of discipline require a basic belief in the work, even when the world I’ve created doesn’t yet exist for anyone else. Unless I know the story will be important to my readers, none of the effort to create it makes sense. And when the ideas are flowing fast and all those plot-holes are almost filling themselves, that belief is standing right beside me, handing over the shovel.
But the only way I get those ideas to flow so well is through the discipline of writing every day — even on days when those plot-holes seem large enough to swallow me whole. It’s a vicious circle; faith is the only way to get started, discipline is the only way to finish, and along the way I need the right combination of both.
Leaping into creativity
Faith, it turns out, isn’t the only thing that can make jumps into a not-yet-written world possible; discipline, it turns out, can leap too. World-building is best when the reader says, “but of course!” And the only way to get to that one perfectly logical conclusion is to keep making leaps of discipline, editing and connecting and believing, all the way to the end of the story.