Passion, Discipline…and Happiness

I often come across posts – and have had numerous conversations – about the need for discipline as a writer. Just write. It doesn’t matter what you write, but get into the habit of writing, set a routine, decide (exhort yourself, write it in blood) that you’re going to write x thousand words per day, or a scene per day of your Work in Progress. Keep the ‘progress’ in progress. And that will turn you, almost magically, into a writer.

Then there’s the passion camp. Write from the heart. Write what you’re most passionate about. Let it pour out onto the page (screen) and it will set its own pace, its own rhythm. Let the wild plotting, the characters that you lose sleep over, the story that shimmers like a star-studded carrot in front of you, pull you along with its own momentum.

Or there’s the balance of the two; passion and discipline meet in a blaze of glory, and a novel is born with seemingly little effort…although this last, I tend to see as passion dictating writing hours. Daily, because you, the writer, can’t get enough of it.

I decided that I definitely felt at home on the passion side of the balance. Before taking to writing a few years ago, I was a weaver, and a pretty obsessive one. Well, tapestry weaving is an obsessive and exacting profession, and does indeed call for passion if you’re going to spend nine-to-five hours for months (or even years) on a single piece of work. In a commercial studio, turning out large scale weavings equates to a high level of discipline and routine as a matter of course. As a solo artist-weaver, nothing other than passion could possibly drive anyone to sit down for days, weeks, months on end, to produce a single artwork.

The repetitive physical nature of that passion finally led to degenerated facet joints in my back, which was painful and could certainly have become a source of gloom. Instead, the writing muse which had meandered quietly in the background since childhood, seldom getting the prime focus of my creative energy, got its chance to step into the light…and has never looked back. What I learnt in this process was that passion is a drive, and the fulfillment of that drive can be unbelievably satisfying. But it’s not necessarily the same thing as happiness.

And focusing on happiness has changed the way I relate to both passion and discipline. A reader of my short stories sagely commented that they’re all about ‘finding a third way’. And for me as a writer, that ‘third way’ has crystallized as happiness. Not the pursuit of happiness, which is potentially endless and can have passion and discipline dragging along at its tail, but allowing happiness…and knowing my writing as its form. What I’ve noticed is how this has changed my relationship to both passion and discipline. I’ve relaxed about them ~ there’s no pressure any more on either of them to have to run the show, and suddenly they’re both so much friendlier. Discipline isn’t a necessary focus, because it’s innate to do what creates feelings of happiness. I can trust the pattern to set itself. Passion can no longer push me like a craving for sweets that has little regard for the body (or other areas of life) whose protests go unheard by the ‘drive’. And it’s sooo much more delicious, and fun!

This is what is currently working for me, and I love it. Do you feel the need to ‘situate’ your writing, or other creative talents, and if so, what works for you?

Central panel of a triptych ~ Nike, Winged Goddess of Victory



18 thoughts on “Passion, Discipline…and Happiness

  1. A great post, Joanna. I think it is a dance between passion and discipline, and each dance is different, so there can be a different leader depending on what’s required. If it’s business writing, discipline leads because it knows the steps. A novel? Then passion grabs discipline and whirls it around the floor until finally discipline learns the moves.


  2. You can have passion but without the discipline, its expression will be limited. Like my poetry 🙂 Little discipline in ecidence there. This PhD is restraining & channelling passions when I yearn to do sooo much more. Sigh…. discipline is one answer and when passion ebbs for whatever reason, discipline is always there to take up the slack till the never-dead spark ignites once more


    • ‘You can have the passion but without the discipline, its expression will be limited’. Exactly, Keira. I’m finding, with ‘I’m going to do this in a way that makes me happy’ at the helm, that those two necessities (and sometimes polarities) have settled into a kind of rapport they didn’t always have in the past. Sometimes they did, but not all the time. Now that the ‘heat’ is off them, they both feel like ‘happiness’. When passion’s in charge, it can burn you out. When discipline’s in charge, it can weigh you down. Both those parts of my nature have been quite happy to hand over the reins, and come along for the ride, so to speak. 🙂
      PS: Your poetry has plenty going for it. xx


  3. Even though I have the discipline to write, what drives me is the passion for writing and the happiness that brings to my life in doing it. Even if I have a deadline, I have to turn around the way I look at that deadline so that it doesn’t drive the passion away, but fuels it instead. It can be scary to have to complete a “creative” work under pressure, but because I love to write, once I start, the deadline and pressure fade into the background and I enjoy the writing anyway.


  4. This post speaks to me on so many levels. It’s interesting how your relationship with passion and discipline has changed over the years, and how they now work more productively together. Funny how balance it always key. Really great post!


  5. Passion? Discipline? I’m running off guilt!! LOL! Well, not really LOL, it’s more like AAARRGHH. Actually I had a little epiphany this weekend that my guilt over writing/not writing was really putting a damper on my entire life. I feel guilty when I am writing because I’m closeting myself away from my family. I feel guilty when I’m not writing because how can I ever realize my dreams and fulfill this deep need to create unless I write. I feel guilty when I am marketing because I’m not writing. I feel guilty when I’m not marketing because I’m not working at finding readers. Blah blah blah. Well, I officially quit feeling guilty. Balance is not about guilt; it’s about doing what needs to be done when I know that’s what needs to be done. Super great post!!!


    • Yay Arley!! Say No to guilt. 🙂 The one I say No to is ‘work. If I call writing work, all the fun drains out of it…so it’s play, it’s dancing, it’s ‘living the dream’, lol.


  6. Of course everyone else has said it, but awesome post! I think there does need to be some discipline in order to simply finish and not let life get in the way. However, I do agree that oftentimes if you’re passionate enough about it, you will find the time to write and the writing will come naturally. One student actually asked me at an author visit recently how to get motivated to write. I told him to find a subject he was extremely passionate about and to keep the end goal in mind…finishing, but also the ending of the story, since that’s always the best part. 🙂


  7. Thanks, Amaleen, I’m glad it speaks to you. Yes, it’s not really just about writing, but it’s easiest to see this issues of balance where your focus is strongest, for sure. 🙂


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