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When it comes to getting things done, discipline works better than inspiration. I mean self-discipline, not the old rap-across-the-knuckles, authoritarian kind.

There’s a common misconception that writers and artists, for example, can do the things they do because of inspiration. It’s so widespread that the world is littered with wannabe authors and entrepreneurs who are, someday, going to get their act together and write a book/start a business/launch a project, or whatever.

I used to be one of them. Part of the reason I didn’t write my first book until I was 40 (even though I’d been told I was a writer during my rare appearances at school), was that I was waited for inspiration (it never came). I’d already spent my advance and the deadline had passed while I waited… It was desperation that one day drove me to the library, where I started to read about the experiences of other writers, how had they done it?

I wanted to know how they had kindled the imagination so that they felt motivated enough, or inspired, to write every day. Not one of them spoke about inspiration. I still read every author interview I come across and as yet none has said they rely on inspiration to get the job done, nor that they have to be motivated before they can get to work.

Instead they talk about discipline, habits and routine. According to people who are doing it successfully every day – unpublished and unsuccessful authors don’t give interviews – writing is about the daily grind of getting up and getting on.

The same is true with more mundane activities. If you want to get regular exercise make it a habit and you’ll do it. If you wait for the days when you feel like squeezing yourself into the spandex there’ll be many gaps in your schedule. In anything you choose to do, getting on with it is the starting point, with self-discipline and repetition morphing into habit.

I’m not knocking creativity, flashes or genius, insights and the rest, and I still spend what time I can sitting in cafés waiting for them to strike. But if I really need to get something done, I don’t kid myself.


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