You don’t have to be a Navy SEAL to use writing discipline

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Do you have writing discipline? Or does the very idea of it make you shudder? It may not be as bad as you think….

Say the word “discipline.”

What does it make you think of?

  • Going to the gym at 5 am every day?
  • Sending a child for a time-out?
  • Sticking to a diet?
  • Studying for a test — earlier than the day before it takes place?
  • Practicing a martial art?
  • Having a tidy desk?

People sometimes call me disciplined, which usually makes me shake my head. My early training as a journalist (I started when I was 16) taught me never to miss deadlines. To some, that might look like discipline, but to me it’s just like breathing.

Oh, and sure, I do certain things that others might find challenging — for example, I walk 20,000 steps most days and I time-block my schedule every working day — but I don’t find these things hard to do.

In fact, I’ve been doing them for so long now that I’d feel more uncomfortable if you made me stop doing them.

But if you asked me to go to the gym at 5 am every day, I’d rebel. And while I try to keep a tidy desk, I don’t generally succeed. Every week it descends into abject messiness for at least a couple of days.

I was reading about discipline recently in a post by Cal Newport. In it, he quoted Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL who has written a bestselling book with the title Extreme Ownership.

Here’s an interesting comment from that book:

“If you want freedom, then you need to have discipline…the more discipline you have in your life the more you’ll be able to do what you want.

“That’s not true initially; initially the discipline might be things you don’t want to do at the time, but the more you do things that you don’t want to do, the more you do the right things, the better off you’ll be and the more freedom you’ll have…”

Now, if you had asked me to become a Navy SEAL (even when I was 20 and had youth and better fitness on my side), I would have curled up in the fetal position. Not my temperament at all.

But I think Willink is right about discipline giving you freedom. Discipline is an ugly sounding word that leads to something much more beautiful in the long run.

Here are five benefits you’ll gain if you’re able to establish some writing discipline:

1-You’ll enjoy automaticity

What’s that? Well, you’ve already experienced it because you’re a reader. You no longer sound out most words as you had to when you were first learning to read. You just see them and you know what they mean. In other words, you read them automatically. This type of skill comes only with practice.

2-You’ll learn a little discomfort isn’t the end of the world

Learning things or building new habits can be really uncomfortable. But if you have the discipline to force yourself through the discomfort, you can get over to the other side and deal with the discomfort later. If you exercise, you’ll end up sweating. But a shower will fix that. If you sit at a desk to write for 30 minutes, you may feel antsy afterwards. A walk or a run will fix that.

3-You won’t waste time arguing with yourself

Have you ever had the experience of telling yourself that you’ll start working on your writing at X am? (The actual time is irrelevant.) As the set time draws closer and closer, dread builds inside of you and you think, “I really don’t want to do this writing.” So, you don’t. But you feel like a failure and you keep trying to talk yourself into it, perhaps even giving yourself a new deadline. Isn’t all that arguing exhausting?

4-You’ll build new skills that make future actions easier

When I sprained my ankle a few months ago, the first exercises I had to do pained me, a lot. But after a week I got used to them, and now I’m thrilled that my legs are much stronger than they’ve ever been before. As a result, I still do those exercises a couple of times every week. And, to give you a writing example, back when I started this blog in 2006, it was really uncomfortable for me to write every week. Now I do it easily and happily.

5-You’ll feel better about yourself

We all like to feel accomplished and proud of ourselves. If you set yourself a reasonable goal and then achieve it, you’re going to feel great. That lovely feeling of “I did what I said I was going to do,” will wash right over you like a warm wave in the ocean.

The secret is to make the goal small enough so your “resistor” doesn’t get in the way. Starting with just five minutes of writing a day is an ambitious enough goal, even though it might not feel that way. You can increase the time later, when five minutes becomes too easy.

Writing discipline doesn’t have to be an ugly phrase, and you don’t have to be a Navy SEAL to use it. Instead, it can be a habit or a practice, something you do every day because you want to.


My video podcast last week addressed how to write around children. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better, more sustainable writing or editing routine? Learn about my three-month accountability program called Get It Done. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


How do you marshal enough writing discipline? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/24, I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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