Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Which is more valuable, inspiration or discipline? (07/15/05)



Featured writer: Rebecca Lawton



Contributors this month:
Betty Winslow
Charlene Bunas
Jodi Hottel
Rebecca Lawton
Susan Bono
Susan Winters


Rebecca Lawton



Which is more valuable, inspiration or discipline?

"We had to get to the studio to record our songs so we could, you know, write more songs." —George Harrison

Inspiration and discipline are not only equally valuable concepts to the writer, they're flip sides of the same coin. Inspiration derives from inspire, to breathe in. Discipline is to teach or to make oneself a disciple, one who studies and then spreads the gospel as she's heard it—at least in the Thirteenth Century sense of the word. Merriam-Webster tells us we have to wait another century to get into discipline as training, self control, and, yes, punishment.

Therefore, I think of inspiration as breathing in and discipline as breathing out. We take in the images that excite our senses; we put them down to experience them again and set them free. And so we make room in our hearts, souls, and minds for more images.

For this writer, my exhalation is best done in the morning, before the world has had its coffee and come fully awake. Getting to my desk before breakfast isn't an act of obedience or penance, performed wearing cloak and cowl. I do it to exhale what I've seen, heard, and felt: the ghostly flight of the barn owl, the voice of my beloved, the smile in my daughter's eyes, the warmth of a river in late summer. Releasing these images to paper gives them—and me—life.

Rebecca Lawton lives and writes in Sonoma County. Read more of her at www.beccalawton.com.

Betty Winslow



Without a doubt, discipline is more important. Without it, even the greatest inspiration will dry up and blow away awaiting the writer's butt to arrive in a chair long enough to record it.

As Leonard S. Bernstein said, ""Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time. The approach must involve getting something down on the page: something good, mediocre or even bad. It is essential to the writing process that we unlearn all those seductive high school maxims about waiting for inspiration. The wait is simply too long."

Or, as one of my favorite poets put it:

"I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung." -- Rabindranath Tagor

Betty Winslow, singing my song in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Which Came First, Discipline or Inspiration?

  by Charlene Bunas

Discipline puts her running shoes bedside before retiring at night; inspiration smiles at the end of her sweaty morning jog. Discipline cooks dinner every night; inspiration sets the table with candles and a bouquet of flowers. Discipline eats fruits and vegetables, limits fats and sugars and makes exercise a religion; inspiration wears a size six. Discipline contributes to 401K and IRA accounts; inspiration fully retires at age fifty-five. Discipline sits and writes; inspired writing gets published.

Recognizing inspiration is a skill. It comes as a soft whisper, hardly ever shouts or demands. Though unassuming, it is an important partner to discipline. No need to wait for it, however. It comes out of hiding when least expected.

To guarantee a visit by inspiration, begin by following this disciplined seven step program:

1) Define what you want, the goal, in one sentence - tell why.

2) Visualize having achieved that specific goal - paint an emotion.

3) Describe the goal to someone else, make yourself accountable with check-in times.

4) Establish a timeline - divide the goal into smaller goals and write specific tasks for times and dates on that timeline.

5) Begin with a small easily attainable task.

6) Keep reminders of your goal on your mirror, in your wallet, on your dashboard, on your computer.

7) Reward yourself along the way.

I facilitated motivational classes for Weight Watchers for almost 25 years. After that, I was a financial planner, complete with license to trade stocks and sell insurance products. In those over thirty years I met folks who wanted to be thin and rich. Often these were the folks who stood in line for Krispy Kreme and who never missed an annual exotic vacation. These were the people who gave road directions by restaurant location and who included inflated rooms for jumping kids and balls, jugglers and clowns for their two year old child's birthday.

These folks had inspiration but no discipline. I believe in discipline, just not uptight, up your ...(rhymes with class) tightness. This is why the above seven steps work. Small steps and rewards along the journey make for getting goals with more nurturing. We all need that, even the writer.

I also believe in inspiration. That's my zest; that's my energy. But inspiration never knocks without my paving the path with discipline. Interesting how those two dance together.

Discipline is work until it becomes an automatic approach to writing, investing, dieting, cooking or running. Then it's inspirational.

Charlene Bunas, Santa Rosa, CA

WHICH IS MORE VALUABLE, INSPIRATION OR DISCIPLINE?

  by Jodi Hottel

Brush of clouds,
rain dripping from the Japanese maple,
blue-eyed grass turning petals to face the sun,
the gentle breeze whispering, "write."
Inspiration is abundant, cheap.
It's available even when idling in traffic
on the freeway, as a crow passes me up
on the concrete median.
Much more rare is choosing
to pay attention, listen,
then sit at my desk and write.

Jodi Hottel

Santa Rosa, CA


Rebecca Lawton



Which is more valuable, inspiration or discipline?

"We had to get to the studio to record our songs so we could, you know, write more songs." —George Harrison

Inspiration and discipline are not only equally valuable concepts to the writer, they're flip sides of the same coin. Inspiration derives from inspire, to breathe in. Discipline is to teach or to make oneself a disciple, one who studies and then spreads the gospel as she's heard it—at least in the Thirteenth Century sense of the word. Merriam-Webster tells us we have to wait another century to get into discipline as training, self control, and, yes, punishment.

Therefore, I think of inspiration as breathing in and discipline as breathing out. We take in the images that excite our senses; we put them down to experience them again and set them free. And so we make room in our hearts, souls, and minds for more images.

For this writer, my exhalation is best done in the morning, before the world has had its coffee and come fully awake. Getting to my desk before breakfast isn't an act of obedience or penance, performed wearing cloak and cowl. I do it to exhale what I've seen, heard, and felt: the ghostly flight of the barn owl, the voice of my beloved, the smile in my daughter's eyes, the warmth of a river in late summer. Releasing these images to paper gives them—and me—life.

Rebecca Lawton lives and writes in Sonoma County. Read more of her at www.beccalawton.com.

Susan Bono



Most, if not all, of the really productive writers I know rise before dawn every morning and give themselves an hour or two of writing. As their coffee warms their lips and bellies, the ideas start to warm them, too. By making an appointment to write on a regular basis, they regularly meet their muse.

That's why I'm tempted to say that discipline is far more important than inspiration, but it's a chicken or the egg kind of thing. In order to establish a writing routine, inspiration made those folks throw back the covers and get out of bed that first time or two.

Discipline may be the engine that drives writers, but inspiration is the fuel. By discipline, I'm not talking about your willingness to walk barefoot over miles of broken glass, or flog yourself until you spit out your daily quota of words on the page. Real discipline is treating yourself with enough respect and love to keep your creative tank filled. You can't drive yourself any distance without stopping for gas. I don't believe any sane person would willingly put themselves on the road to aching eyes and carpal tunnel without the energy of great ideas fueling them. Discipline can prod us into sitting behind the wheel, but inspiration is what gets us asking, "Where to next?"

Susan Bono is filling her tank in Petaluma, CA.

Susan Winters



Inspiration is the fairy godmother whispering in your ear, "Magic is real. Anything is possible."

Discipline is the beauty-challenged stepsister whispering in your other ear "Yeah, but you're going to have to put your back into it."

Anyone can feel inspired by a stunning sunset, but it takes discipline to recreate that image in a poem or a scene in a story. It is discipline that drives the creation to press so that it may be shared by others.

Susan Winters' work has appeared in Northern Nevada Family and Word Riot. She enjoys the sunsets in Reno, NV. wintersblue@juno.com

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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