Be a "disciplined" artist in 7 "easy" steps

The other day, a colleague said to me: “Wow! You must be so disciplined to write every day.”

“Yeah, I guess.” I said. But I don’t feel disciplined. That word conjures a drill sergeant forcing me to do 50 sit-ups. Being disciplined doesn’t sound creative or fun; it sounds regimented and stiff.

But I am writing every day, or most every day. How does anyone show up every day for a job without a boss? Nobody’s forcing me to write. So, how is it that I, or any other artist, make art most days when a sergeant is not kicking me from my bed to the writing desk?

I realized there are at least seven things I do – so that I write every day. If you want more “discipline” – the good kind – try some of these, not all of them easy.

  1. WANT IT. Imagine walking into your solo show or holding your finished book in your hands. Let yourself want it. That desire will get you there. It will make you work when you could be taking a yoga class. This desire may feel selfish or delusional. Don't worry about that. Let your desire live in you. Or else your work will feel like too many sit-ups.
  2. MAKE IT FUN. Once, when I was feeling gripped with fear and resistance, I bought a plastic sword at a toy shop to put next to my computer to slay my resistance. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw the sword, and the spell of negativity broke and I got back to work. Do whatever it takes to keep the mood in your work area serious but light.
  3. PREPARE YOUR WORK AREA THE NIGHT BEFORE. When I finish for the day, I make my to-do list for the next morning so I know where to start. That makes entering work, much easier. You pace less and dive in.
  4. SCHEDULE TIME IN YOUR CALENDAR. I write in the morning. Period. I don’t schedule anything for my mornings unless it's an emergency. Carve out the time or else life will fill it up with everything else. 
  5. TAKE BREAKS. I've taken weeks off from writing my memoir and that’s been the best thing for it. I returned with fresh eyes and renewed energy. But this kind of break is different than avoiding your art. You know the difference. Taking a real break feels like you’re catching your breath, not hiding from a project in fear and guilt.
  6. INVITE PEER REVIEW. Show your work to colleagues and mentors. Choose the right ones – who will inspire you with their comments and leave you feeling like you can’t wait to get back to the studio.
  7. SHOW STRANGERS. Do a reading or a show your work to people who don’t know you. Listen to what they say. Getting your work into the world can feed your artist engine like nothing else.

Notice all that you do to support your daily practice. It's not an accident when you get to work every day. It's the result of many decisions and good habits. When you lose your way or get out of practice, this list can help you find your daily rhythm again. 

Photo by Cliff Johnson