Discipline

Last year I attended a meeting of a book club to discuss my novel The Ghost Daughter. In my quest to make a good impression on the elegant women of the club, I ironed my pants and wore a smart jacket. I even brushed my hair.

As I perched on the couch waiting for the meeting to begin, one of the ladies came in.

She wanted to know if I was the author. I proclaimed myself.

Huh, she said. From the way you write, I thought you’d show up in leather and spikes.

She wasn’t buying my ironed white pants and blue blazer for a minute. She’d read my work. She understood that my polite exterior was a front for something infinitely messier.

I thought of her the other day when I finished a draft of the sequel to an unsold novel I wrote last year. That makes me the author of thirteen novels now, regardless of whatever success or lack thereof that has resulted from my efforts. The success question is subjective and largely out of my control, though I am aware that writing the sequel to a book nobody wants in the first place doesn’t seem to immediately further my cause.

A good friend of mine commented that she admired my discipline in writing. It was such a lovely thing to say but as soon as she said it I realized that writing is the one area of my existence where I am completely and totally out of control.

Who writes an even more violent sequel to an original novel that is already being called “too dark” by people who make the decisions? Who writes hundreds of thousands of words a year no one will read? A Quixotic weirdo, that’s who. Not a person of discipline.

I am an expert disciplinarian in every other corner of my life. I clean my house three times a week and work out every morning. I don’t own any leather or spikes. Too expensive. Today I wore thrift store khaki trousers and secondhand clogs.

The last time I took a personal day off of work was in 2005. The last alcoholic drink I had was three quarters of one hard lemonade ten months ago.

The energy and will power it takes just to keep myself from saying what I am really thinking most of the time would be enough to send three girl scouts to the moon and back nine times.

I suspect modern life requires Herculean levels of discipline of most people, especially women.

The cool thing about the compulsion to write is that while it is perhaps a strange addiction, writing doesn’t make me fat, arrested, poor, or excommunicated. I write my extravagant characters and crooked plot lines and damaged love affairs and bloody vengeance and inconvenient ghosts with total abandon.

Writing is a mosh pit. An opium den. A pirate ship. A den of thieves. A hoarder’s living room. Discipline is afraid to come over.

 

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