Discipline is not enough – by Isabel Joely Black

โ€˜And [he] shall never doubt, never fear, and never turn in the face of danger’ ~ from the Preamble to the Servants’ Second Indenture (the Nascir Ishcai-Nashim), Amnar: The Awakening

“People think I’m disciplined. It is not discipline, it is devotion. There is a difference.”

I have a confession to make. I’ve spent a week fussing over this, suddenly unable to write. It’s incredible that I can write three blog posts for my blog, but the moment I’m asked to write about tenacity for Alex, suddenly I get a big dose of writer’s block.

Generally, this would be a question of walking away for a bit, leaving it until the words fill my head again. Unfortunately, this is one of those times when it’s more difficult than usual to come up with the right words.

Now, I think I’m supposed to tell you all about how, once I’d done the whole anorexic thing, I managed to spend the next five years writing seventeen books. The truth is that it wasn’t so much about discipline, or nailing myself to the chair, but about love.

After I moved down here, back in 2004, I had to work full-time, finish my PhD full-time and write at the same time. Well, not literally at the same time. I somehow managed to do this for two years, and by the end of 2005, I had carpal tunnel syndrome and had finished nine of the original Amnar books. I recommend you don’t do that at home.

It all came down to something deeper than mere persistence, just discipline. I had – and still have – a devotion to the world I was pouring out onto the page. To the story, to the characters. I never put myself under pressure to write when I didn’t feel like it, but put in hours simply because it filled me with joy.

Now, for as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve had the dream of being a published author. Somehow, that got mangled up in my heart and soul with a lot of tension, and since a friend and I started the work of trying to get the book out there, I’ve had over a hundred rejections. I’ve also had personal letters back from editors saying they tried their hardest to get it through acquisitions panels, and one massive deal that collapsed in 2007.

You pick up ways of dealing with this – because it’s not like I can give up and do something else. Somebody once suggested I try being a librarian, but everything I’ve tried to do, I’ve ended up miserable. So I made Amnar, this work of pure love, the centre of my life. It’s not exactly easy – right this moment I’m again on the brink of financial ruination, and trusting myself that I’ll find a way out.

I can’t tell anybody else how to live their own life, but this is how I live mine. I get up every day and I do my best to get on with it. I do what I can to take care of myself, to heal. When I can’t write, I step away from the laptop and respect that maybe Amnar’s not interested in working with me today. Each time it feels like the end of the world, I let myself feel that for a while, and then from somewhere deep inside, I find the courage to keep going. It’s not magic, it’s not something I can put in a neat little “ten steps” post, but it is honestly just how you do it.

* * *

Isabel Joely Black a writer, artist, and general thinker. She has this to say about herself:

I’m thirty, I write books, I draw pictures, and run a business. I also have red hair and love to dance. I’ve also travelled all over the world, adore music, been a cinema projectionist and general explorer of life.

You can find Joely at In These Heels, Amnar, on Twitter and the subject of a Someday Interview.

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15 thoughts on “Discipline is not enough – by Isabel Joely Black

  1. Joanna Young says:

    Joely, thanks for sharing how you’ve stuck with your dream… or devotion. I admire your courage and hope the break comes soon

    Joanna Young´s last blog post..Allowing Ourselves to be Successful – Guest Post by Alex Fayle

  2. Glen Allsopp says:

    A great message Joely: Do what you love. 17 books in five years is amazing, congratulations.

    Nice post!


    Glen Allsopp´s last blog post..The Definitive Guide on Achieving Your Dreams

  3. “It is not discipline, it is devotion.” This is really beautiful, Joely. Thanks so much for the reminder that it should be, that it at least can be, about joy and fun.

    Diane Whiddon-Brown´s last blog post..Are Online Friends really โ€œFriendsโ€?

  4. Alex Fayle says:

    Given Joely’s passion (devotion) I don’t doubt that success is around the corner for her.

    It is an amazing achievement, no? I can’t wait to see the books in print!

    When I read that I asked myself about my own level of devotion and while it’s not 17 books in 5 years strong, it’s definitely up there!

  5. Terry Heath says:

    I used to work in the behavior program at a local high school. Some kids would do what they needed to do despite great odds, while others would whine and feel sorry for themselves with very little adversity. There was no accounting for either example; nothing anyone could say would change either person’s outlook and tenacity. Although it would be nice to think tenacity is a skill we can acquire, from that experience I think it’s something you’re either born with or not.

    You’re born with it.

    Terry Heath´s last blog post..God. What Could I Actually Call This Post?

  6. Wow Isabel you seem like such a calm person and take everything in stride. What I get from you is that you take a very “it is what it is” approach to things now.

    It sounds like you’ve had some pretty big obstacles to get over, but with your devotion you’re getting there. I feel that, while annoying, obstacles are put in our way as a test to see just how bad we really want what’s on the other side. Usually if you stick with it the rewards are certainly worth it. Great post, thanks for sharing and best of luck with your books!

  7. Karen Swim says:

    Joely, thank you for opening up and sharing your story. Reading this today provided me with a much needed lift in spirits. It does take courage to keep going even if the results don’t come easy or fast but I firmly believe that in the journey itself there is joy and learning. I know that you will achieve your dream Joely and I look forward to celebrating it with you!

    Karen Swim´s last blog post..Little Lesons from a Big Speech

  8. Friar says:

    Years ago, I was at the mid-way point in my thesis…ready to quit. I hated what I was doing, I just wanted it to end.

    But I just stuck it out to the bitter end for 2 more years. To finish what I’d started. It was all or nothing..there’s no such thing as a “half-degree”.

    I dunno what you’d call that. Certainly not devotion.

    Being mule-headed, perhaps (?)

  9. Paul D says:

    Good post…Finally someone gets at the core of what drives them. I think passion is what causes the devotion you feel and I am glad you have that because it isn’t easy to figure out for most people.

  10. hey Joely, thanks for the reminder about why we are all so focused on this THING that we can’t seem to get it out of our being. Everyone around us thinks we are half baked and don’t understand why the hell we are still at it! Reading your post has reinforced to me that there are many like us who ” have a DREAM”
    Thanks for articulating this so well. I am forwarding this on to my hubby….so he can see that I am not.

  11. Alex Fayle says:

    I would have been one of the whiners about a little bit of set back. The challenge of coming from a privileged background and understanding how to work the school system is that when things don’t go your way, you tend to freak out. Plus it’s not that conducive to finding passion – merely comfort.

    As I said in the comment to Terry, I think sometimes overcoming obstacles forces us to discover our passion and provides us with the devotion to carry it through.

    Not easy? not fast? You mean that’s not the way things are supposed to work? Bummer. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    That is discipline and stubbornness for sure. And good for you for sticking it out.

    @Paul D
    I think few people act with the passion and devotion that Joely does – it’s a rare person that can connect to that inner well of energy.

    You my dear are full-baked, definitely! And so delicious too! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. @Friar I only got through the last six months of my thesis with blood-gut-stubbornness. It works for some things but I wouldn’t recommend it for creative writing!

    Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter)´s last blog post..At the heart of creativity: try not to rape your muse as you work

  13. I love that statement about discipline and devotion! I consider myself to be completely undisciplined. And yet, I have managed to pretty much consistently write 5 posts per week for almost a year now! It’s a lot of work. But is it discipline? No, it’s pure devotion. Devotion to writing, devotion to the concept of blogging, and devotion to those who honour me with reading my blog. Yep, I LOVE that statement!

    Urban Panther´s last blog post..Leaving words behind

  14. Friar says:

    @Joely and Alex

    I think devotion applies to something you really like (or really care about).

    If it’s a task you hate and have no personal interest in it…it’s hard to be devoted. You do it because you HAFTA, not really because you WANNA.

    Okay, that’s my DEEP thought for the day. (my brain hurts… I’m done here) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Friar´s last blog post..Blogging Commenter Stereotypes

  15. Alex Fayle says:

    Yes, devotion to the blog has carried me through times when I really haven’t felt like writing, but I do it anyway. And I’m always extremely pleased with myself for doing so.

    Please don’t hurt your brain. Hurt brain bad.

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