Love Makes Me Write, Not Self-Discipline

I never get sick. I mean never. The last time I was sick was three years ago with a cold, and just before that, a herniated disc. Which is why I don’t know what to do with myself today because I’m sick.

But even though I was sick, I wrote today. You can count on it—on days that I don’t write something for this or my other blog, NotWriting.com, I have written something, whether it be pages in a new novel, a scene in a screenplay, words for a business writing assignment, an entry in my private journal, you name it. The fact is, I write every day. Every day.

Yesterday, because I was confined to bed and didn’t have the patience for writing in html on the blog, I worked in pencil on the synopsis of my new novel. That’s the 1-page single-spaced document that will accompany my book to editors and film production companies. I dread writing the synopsis because a part of me feels that synopsis-writing has nothing to do with novel-writing, and that if a reader wants to know how it ends, I want to tell him, “Read the book.”

But I did it. I wrote, just as I write every day, and I didn’t do it out of a sense of duty or self-discipline. I did it because I truly love to write.

My wife thinks I’m freakishly self-disciplined, and to the outside observer, I can see why she would think this. Every day, around 5am if I’m deep into a project, I shuffle across the hall to my office and get started. But I don’t do it out of a sense of self-discipline. In fact, I think self-discipline is a lousy motivator over the long-term. Self-discipline may get you to sit up in bed, but only love will motivate you to leave the warmth of that bed, get dressed and embark on the loneliest enterprise there is—writing.

Many years ago, I had a revelation in which I finally understood the oft-quoted line by writers and other artists: “Process, not product.” You have to enjoy the process of the craft you’re engaged in and do it for its own sake, not for the final product or its perceived rewards.

Since then, if I’m ever feeling down or lacking motivation, instead of trying to discipline myself to write, I make a list of what I love about it, and always topping the list is my love of what I call “the line.”

“The line” is that one sentence, that one piece of description, that one snatch of dialogue that comes out of nowhere and surprises you. You, the writer, have no idea where it came from; you know it’s good, that’s all. And ultimately, I think it’s that love of the line that keeps writers writing. You simply have to love language, and if you don’t, nothing short of self-flagellation would make you do this.

Each year, I’ll reread a few books where the gorgeous prose inspires me: Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, T.C. Boyle’s East is East, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—depending on whether I want to read about the infidelities of a French or Russian woman). And more than the characters or plot, what you’re reading for is the love. To witness great writers’ love for the art and how they expressed it.

I didn’t feel well today, but I wrote. And I wrote because I love writing.

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By Chris Orcutt

Writer — The Dakota Stevens Mystery Series, Short fiction, Plays — Editor & Speechwriter for Hire — Avid Golfer, Chess Player & Awesome Wood-Splitter — Twitter: @chrisorcutt

Comments (3)

  1. Shan March 18, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Hi Chris,
    Yesterday your blog came to mind, and I could not for the life of me find or recognize your name. This morning, I found you in my favorites menu. I was right, as I re-read this post, I will forever quote you as I write about “the line.”

  2. Shannon March 6, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Great post Chris. I just made a joke to my neighbors that they must think I am busting out an end to my first novel, as I have been writing every day. I have been writing a lot about nothing!! I too, just love to write. One of these days my plot will come.

    • Orcutt March 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

      Shannon, I’m glad the post helped you. As for your novel, the rule of thumb is that the first draft teaches you what your story is about. My advice is to finish the first draft *no matter what*, put it away for a while, then read it with the aim of figuring out what your story is about. The second draft will be that story. Good luck! —Chris