For and Against Discipline

It’s taken me more than three weeks to get back to normal after my trip to New York for my 50th college reunion. It never takes me that long to bounce back after a trip, and I started to think that maybe I should make an appointment with my doctor.

And then I realized what was really going on: I was grieving for my college years. I can only hope that you, reading this, have had – at some point in your life – as much fun as I did in college.

Which brings me to the subject of discipline. I was not disciplined in college. (Talk about understatement!) I spent big chunks of time mooning over Richard Burton, listening to the Beatles, watching ballet, reading Hamlet criticism, and hanging out with my friends. (I’m listening to “Let It Be” as I type this right now.)

Decades later my doctoral program finally convinced me that it was time to set some priorities and stick to them. Peter Pan grew up! Those habits have stuck.

Yesterday morning – more precisely, at six yesterday morning – I suddenly felt like myself again. First thought: Priorities! What was I going to do with the surging energy that hauled me out of bed before sunrise?

My writing philosophy is to tackle the hard jobs first and then reward myself with the fun stuff. So there I was, in my pajamas, with our cat in my lap, trying to rev myself up to tackle the book on Shaw that I’m writing.

What I really wanted to play with, though, was a neat idea I’d come across for article about police reports. (I know, I know. Doesn’t sound like fun! But it was.) I was sure I could get it finished in a couple of hours. But that would set my little writing train on the wrong track. What to do?

Of course I wrote the article – in fact I’d finished a complete draft by the time Charlie was ready for our morning walk. Sometimes discipline is not the way to go! I would have lost that momentum and the ideas that were lined up in my head.

And I’ll tell you what else I did yesterday that took me off course: I vacuumed. (Most of the time I use housework as a reward for slogging away at a difficult writing project.)

Charlie talked me into buying an electric broom when our vacuum cleaner gave up the ghost a few months ago. I could weep when I think of all the hours I used to spend hauling that heavy machine around. The electric broom is so light and versatile that I can vacuum our whole condo in less than 15 minutes. (It helps that we don’t have carpets.)

Sometimes it’s nice to reward yourself before you tackle a gosh-awful task.

Advice to writers: Get rid of your carpets and buy an electric broom.

Better advice to writers: Be a friend to yourself, your energy, and your momentum.



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