Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Essay - How Daily Discipline Helps Me

Which requires more personal discipline, for you: sticking rigidly to a daily routine (like Kant) or surrendering to your spontaneity? Which is more productive and gratifying for you?

Don Enss

            Without a doubt for me as an aspiring writer I look forward to the day when I exhibit the discipline that Kant did. His discipline to writing has been followed by many successful writers and I do not doubt that if I followed his daily approach, I could be successful.

Graham Greene, one of the more prolific of writers, averaged over five hundred words a day, five days a week for over twenty years.[1] During that time he wrote Brighton Rock (1938), The Lawless Roads (1939), The Confidential Agent (1939), The Power and the Glory (1940)[2] – a powerful book made into a film starring a very young Henry Fonda, and many more. Without that discipline he would never have written all of the books that he did and I doubt that he sacrificed his spontaneity.  John Steinbeck was another disciplined writer who gave the following tip to aspiring writers: “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.”[3] These and so many other successful writers discipline themselves to do something each day, because if you skip a day, you may decide to skip the next day and so on.

In golf, “the best performers had racked up about 10,000 hours practicing, while the mediocre ones had logged about half that… that’s about 3 hours per day for nine years.”[4] Think how knowledgeable I could be in philosophy if I devoted 3 hours a day for the next nine years, but it has to be done daily. Of course there is an opportunity cost; the time I devote to that would be less time that I could devote to another interest, but usually what happens, without the discipline to commit to doing something daily, is for the time to be filled with other activities that don’t get me to where I want to be.

This may not work for everyone. Others may be able to sit down and crank out a book or do an essay in one sitting, but I think I may be more like most people that if I discipline myself to do something every day, whether it’s writing or getting on the treadmill, or studying, it becomes a habit and my body and my mind expected me to do it even when I don’t feel like it and when it’s done, I always gratified because I have accomplished something. 

Kant took his long walks as regular as clockwork because it satisfied his body and his mind and to have missed one would have made him feel a sense of disappointment.  For some things a daily habit may not be the most effective use of your time. If turning on the television in the morning lures you away from what you need to do, then you will feel an emptiness for not having stuck to your commitment. But hopefully that emptiness will draw you back into the commitment and you will not turn on the television until you have completed your daily routine.

[1] http://www.williamlanday.com/2009/07/08/how-writers-write-graham-greene/
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Greene
[3] https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/03/12/john-steinbeck-six-tips-on-writing/
[4] http://www.golf.com/instruction/deliberate-practice-key-improving-your-golf-game


  1. "A page a day is a book a year." Every writer should memorize that mantra and repeat it daily.

    The English writer Anthony Trollope is another who cranked out the books on such a schedule, writing faithfully every morning before work.

    And yet, the discipline required to follow a set schedule still strikes me as in some ways easier than that of someone who trusts the muse to show up and spark his/her creative juices. Not better, just psychologically easier. Before my mentor John Lachs advised me that I should start writing first thing each morning I used to wait for that damned muse, who made a habit of not showing up. That was hard.

    1. On second thought, following a set routine IS better too.