Adopting a Writing Discipline With Minimal Pain and Maximal Pleasure

“Do your writing first thing in the morning.” How many times have you heard this advice?

I first heard it in my MFA program from a guest lecturer, who encouraged us to always work on our writing before checking our email, Facebook, etc. As he explained, once you expose yourself to other voices, it’s much harder to find your inner voice amidst the noise.

At the time, it made sense. But that doesn’t mean I followed his advice. Should be and want to are two entirely different things, as anyone starting a new diet will tell you.

The thing is, I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. So one motivation for dragging myself out of bed is the lure of unopened emails waiting in my inbox.

But after a series of unproductive mornings, I decided to compromise — I’d read my email for the 20 minutes it took to drink my coffee and protein shake and then begin my writing. Well, you can guess how that went.

“Just one more email…” An hour and a half would pass, often with me hitting the “refresh” button multiple times! Before I knew it, it was time to get ready for work.

Last week, I finally decided to end this cycle. For over a year I’d had an app to block Internet distractions, but I decided to take it up a notch. Instead of turning it on when I felt like it (which had mixed results), I would schedule my sessions the night before so that as soon as I sat at my computer, my coveted email access would be shut off.

After a week of this experiment, I’ve discovered that not only is giving up my morning email routine a painless sacrifice, but it actually makes the writing experience — and my morning as a whole — so much more pleasurable. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Instead of my mornings being plagued by a nagging sense of guilt (“okay, I finished my coffee 45 minutes ago, I really should be writing”), I address my obligations right away and give myself something to look forward to. Often by the time I’m finished, the desire for my “email fix” has vanished!

2) While before I viewed writing as a chore awaiting me after the “fun stuff,” I now associate it with pleasure since it’s accompanied by my beloved coffee and protein shake.

3) Even 30 minutes makes a difference in your energy level and willpower depletion. By tackling my writing immediately, I am at my peak performance and have so much more stamina, focus, and creative flow.

4) We all know things seldom go as planned. Even when I was on my best behavior, sometimes an “urgent” email from work would divert my attention and before I knew it, the morning was gone. Throughout the day, the frequency of distractions grows, decreasing the probability you’ll write anything at all.

5) Like my favorite sugary snacks, email provides a temporary jolt of pleasure but no lasting sustenance. As most of us have experienced with social media, we have a compulsive urge to check it, yet the time spent rarely leads to life-changing epiphanies. Writing, by contrast, lacks that dopamine rush. It can be grueling and frustrating. However, it delivers long-lasting satisfaction, knowing you’re carrying out your higher purpose and not merely consuming things.

Make no mistake: deadlines plus money=motivation. But for long-term goals, the finish line is hazier, forcing me to become a tougher taskmaster for myself.

This experiment has taught me that by developing daily disciplines, conjuring up motivation grows easier and easier until the act (like my former habit of morning email checking) becomes second nature.

What disciplines have you adopted to make your writing a top priority? How did you overcome initial resistance?