The Problem with Discipline


I’ve been thinking lately about how writers talk about discipline.

It feels so important, doesn't it? I cannot tell you how many times I've heard sentences like these:

  • “I like writing, but I have no discipline.”

  • “I'm not a real writer because I only write when I'm taking workshops.”

  • “I used to write more often. I guess I’m not disciplined enough.”

This always comes with a thick air of shame that seems to say, "I know this is a problem with me." "I should be able to do this better." “Everyone else probably has this figured out, right?”

Can we start here please — shame is an asshole. It tells us that the problem is inside us. It tells us that if we were just a little more something (smart, good, disciplined) we wouldn't have this issue. It tells us the struggle is with our own shortcomings. It keeps us alone.

Truth is, I don’t think discipline gets us very far. It’s way too thin, too isolating. Julia Cameron says “Discipline is a weak battery.” It’s a small little piece of a much more complicated process of creating writing flow.

And, I think the struggle to write, the strain of it, is way, way bigger and more universal than anything that could be seen as a personal shortcoming.

Writing, when we’re really IN it, is like a river. It’s full of flow, magic, strangeness, layers, random shopping carts, crayfish, messages in bottles. It will keep us swimming in total wonder our whole lives if we let it.

But you can’t just tell water to flow. You can’t start a river with your mind. You need to create the conditions — gravity, sun, rain. You need creeks to feed it and lakes to receive it. It’s an ecosystem. Like you are.

And, each of our rivers are distinct. I can’t tell you what yours needs right now, no one can. But I can say what’s true for me — that accountability, structure and encouragement are huge forces. These are my gravity and rainfall and river walls. Here’s how that tends to sound:

  • “Can you have that to me by Tuesday?”

  • “Let’s keep talking every couple weeks until this is going.”

  • “I’m so glad you wrote that.”

  • “Hey don’t worry, everyone has slow months.”

If each of us took the energy we put into “disciplining” ourselves — or thinking we’re going to discipline ourselves, because let’s face it, that’s usually what it looks like — and put it into feeding our rivers we’d have a far more creative and innovative world than we do.

What does that look like? Creating writing buddies, making deadlines, going to inspiring places, clearing time, reading, resting, doodling ideas. There are a million ways to get your river flowing. Maybe a workshop is what you need, maybe it’s a residency, maybe it’s a coach. Maybe it’s at Firefly, or maybe it’s a flirty German teacher you’ll meet on the streetcar tomorrow. There are tributaries all around if you look for them. Then it’s up to you to lean in, receive the support, insist that you don’t have to do this alone.

Okay. This is the part of the newsletter when I tell you how we can do this for you, so if you’re done here that’s great, but take this in — you can stop trying to change yourself. It’s hard, yes, but it’s also possible, and we’re all in this together. Find your own ways to feed your beautiful river. And click here to read a poem before you click out. :)

If you're still reading, here's a path I have come to deeply love and trust. It's called The Big One.

This is a workshop we dreamed up three years ago when we saw a lot of folks getting momentum from our classes, but not enough to carry them through the complicated, messy middle of a big thing. We wanted to make a process that was wide and deep enough to cross that chasm together.

What is a “big thing”? For some people it’s I-don't-even-know-what-this-is-yet-but-I-have-a-thrum-inside-me-I-need-to-follow. For some it’s I've-been-working-on-this-for-as-long-as-I-can-remember-dear-god-when-will-it-end. There are many variations in between, in every genre and level of clarity. We work with them all.

The class consists of two beautiful groups of six people who meet by-weekly over nine months for workshops, retreats and a final reading. We follow the natural rhythm of the year, hunkering down for full weekends in fall and winter, taking February off because it’s February. We get to know the flows and turns of each other’s work. We laugh hard and cry too. And we write. We write a lot.

It is by application, which feels a little un-Firefly, but it’s important to us to create groups that sparkle with chemistry and variety, people who can learn from totally different skills in each other. (We don’t ask for a writing sample, we want to know you.)

If this sounds like something you want to swim into, click here for more info. Applications are open until August 8th. Just applying can be a way to feed your river. It is a financial commitment, but there are scholarships and installment plans available. As ever, we want to make this work for you.

We staggered the application dates with our shorter project-based class, Deeper Waters, so that people who don’t get into one can still apply for the other. It is also an amazing class.

In late July, we’ll open the gates for all our other fall workshops. You can see what we have planned right here.

And finally, oh my goodness, this poem.

Here’s to finding the glittery fish and mysterious currents that make our rivers flow, and here’s to all the places they will take us.

Chris Fraser