Discipline — for writers and drunks

As a writer, I have learned the benefit of regular habits. Although I realize some writers only scurry to the typewriter (oh, how I date myself!) when the inspiration strikes them, I am in agreements with March Heaton Vorse, who said, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

Implicit in that statement is the idea of consistency and discipline. I never used to think I had any discipline, but after I got sober back in 1995, I was startled to discover that, if required, I could muster up quite a bit of it.

Someone who helped me stay sober back then gave me a few simple things to do every day, and told me if I did them, thoroughly and completely, I would stay sober for the rest of my life. I was so desperate to stop drinking, and to stay stopped, that I did what she suggested. Discipline is often born from such desperation, I think. And so far, so good – I’m still sober. These are the same things I now tell other people who want to get and stay sober:

  • Get together with other people who are trying to stay sober (you know, those folks who tend to get together in church basements),
  • Spend some time with whatever I consider The Ineffable (I was told I could believe in any God I liked, as long as it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t booze.)
  • Call another alcoholic, such as the woman who was helping me, every day at a prearranged time. And by this I was told that if I agreed to call someone at 7:00 a.m., that didn’t mean 7:06.
  • Help somebody else stay sober.
  • Don’t pick up a drink.

Because these simple disciplines have worked so well for me, I am always saddened when a woman I’m trying to help stay sober doesn’t get it. I wince when I hear someone say, “I’ll take this suggestion, but I don’t think that one’s for me.” I flinch when someone says “I’ll try and get together with other people trying to stay sober today, if I can fit it into my busy schedule.” Such a woman will check in one day, but not the next, or the one after that, because hey, she’s busy, or upset about something, or she slept in. Such a woman can’t find time to help someone else stay sober, because right now her own problems are taking up all her time, and besides, didn’t she already say her life is SO busy?

Apparently such a woman forgets how easy it was to find a few hours (or more) to drink every day. And that’s sad, because the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of such folks ending up at the bottom of a bottle sooner or later.

Imagine a writer who would sit down to write a book, only if it didn’t interfere with watching “The Bachelor” on television, or maybe she’ll start that first draft, but will give it up after a week or so, when it becomes real work. Such a person is unlikely to become a writer, just as the person cherry-picking their sobriety is unlikely to stay away from the booze.

Everybody’s life is complicated. Everybody’s life is busy. Everybody has problems. If something’s important to you, you make a priority. If something’s not important to you well, what’s that expression? He’s just not that into you. You’re just not that into sobriety. Maybe such a woman will stay sober by doing it her way. I hope so, but I think I’ll try and help that woman over there, the one who seems willing to try the only thing I have on offer.

Writing’s like that, too. Maybe you will be one of those rare writers who never have to learn her craft, who writes only when it suits her, someone Inspiration is willing to chase down in the shopping mall, on the living room sofa, or at the ladies’ lunch, but that certainly hasn’t been my experience. My experience has taught me that if you don’t actually get your butt in the chair and write and learn your craft and practice some creative discipline, well, you’re probably just not that into being a writer.

Lots of people want to be authors, but not many want to be writers, just like many people don’t want the lives they had when they were drinking alcoholically, but don’t want to do the work it takes to get and stay sober either.

With drunks, experiential wisdom says there are some things you need to do, if you want to stay sober. Staying out of bars is one. Not hanging around with folks who drink and drug is another. Developing a relationship with a higher power is one more, as is going to those inconvenient meetings and calling the person trying to help you when you say you will.

With writers, you have to show up at the page every day. You have write and write and re-write and re-write, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when you’ve hit a nerve way down in the broken central core of who you are, and discovered that’s the very thing you have to write about. You have to deal with your emotions, and not let despair, doubt and envy get the better of you. You have to put your faith in something greater than yourself – by which I mean, as a writer you have to learn to trust the power and worth of story-telling, as well as develop your talent, honor your inspiration, and keep your behind in the chair, consistently.

I think I’ll give some thought as to what the Twelve Steps for Writers might be. Look for it in a future post.

Copyright 2008 Lauren B. Davis For permissions: laurenbdavis.iCopyright.com

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