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if you were him you'd be home now

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Tue 30
Jan
2007

Sloth: the new discipline

Writing For 2007 I have resolved to make every single blog about writing. Okay, no, not really. That would be boring as all get-out. But I am still a little giddy from my staggeringly disaster-free latest effort, so I might do a few more than usual. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s forced to read them, right? If you’re here for the cutesy Finlay pics, you can skip on by, can’t you? Right. And where possible I will try to relate them to non-writing areas, in order to avoid disappearing up my own butt.

So. To discipline. I have come to suspect that discipline is a myth. These elite athletes who train at four in the morning until their toes bleed; the child violinists who stay locked in their rooms practicing while all their friends are out doing fun stuff like drugs and unprotected sex; we’re supposed to think they’re disciplined. We’re meant to shake our heads in admiration and say, “Wow, she really earned it.” But I reckon what they’ve actually been doing is having a good time and calling it work.

I’ve reached this conclusion because I have no discipline, and I assume my character flaws are shared by the rest of the world. (The good parts are just me.) I work from home. There’s nobody stopping me spending my days browsing girls-with-glasses-having-mudfights.com instead of writing novels. The fact that I do manage to squeeze out a new book now and again is often interpreted as evidence that I must have great discipline. But I write books because I love it. That’s not discipline, is it? Isn’t that just being fortunate enough to get paid for recreation?

When I first decided to give full-time writing a shot—before I was published, by the way, which should tell you how very stupid I was—I was extremely disciplined. I had daily word targets. I graphed my progress. If I fell behind, I would berate myself about wasting precious time. And I did write many words. But I didn’t enjoy it much, and my output fell off, and the book I was writing turned out to be a steaming pile of crap, which I never finished.

I bet the same thing happens if you’re trying to become a professional violinist, or swimmer, or even something more mundane like trying to get into shape. Unless you enjoy the process and take pleasure from practicing, you give up.

Hmm. When I started this blog, I thought it was going to be kind of inspirational. You know, about how there’s not that much separating us normal people from world-class achievers. But now I think about it, you can also read it as a depressing indictment on how people are pathetic they can’t achieve anything unless they get lots of little rewards along the way.

Well, either way.

Note: I didn’t really mean to skip a whole month of blogs there. Sorry about that. I did get a ton of writing done, though, and played with my daughter. So, really, can you complain? I mean, and still sleep at night?

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