The English Major and Her Unfamiliar Lover

Imagine you’ve married the one person you’re certain you will love forever. The bond between you and your spouse is so pure, so organic, that for you to be with anyone else just doesn’t make sense. This is the exact person you dreamed of marrying even before you knew what marriage meant. But when you lie down to sleep with your beloved each night, there’s one little problem: You wake up to a stranger the next day. Your memory bank resets every night, requiring you to get to know your spouse anew each day, as if you’d never laid eyes on him or her before. The scenario may sound like an Adam Sandler movie, but it is a situation with which the serious writer is too familiar. As a lover one does not recognize each morning, writing can frighten and perplex the English major, who must, through agonizing experiment, learn how to understand—and love—the craft once again.

An English major may have written scores of well-received essays, reports, and research papers in his or her academic career, but when the professor assigns a new challenge, fear often seizes the heart. Twirling strands of hair and writhing at the desk, the writer dreads the thought of meeting the blank page again. When is the paper due? How long should it be? Will there be enough time to write it and still go out this weekend? Nevermind that the writer has met deadlines again and again. Nevermind that the writer has written myriad thesis statements: He or she may still feel the need to search for examples online. Because the topic is new and time has passed since the last assignment, the writer wonders whether this set of words can be as good as the words on previous pages. So begins hours of nailbiting.

As the second, third, eighth first date with the blank page begins, the nervous writer fusses over what to wear, so to speak. What should be the thesis? If the professor has offered multiple prompts from which to choose, which topic will require the least amount of sweat and blood to conquer? Which essay prompt is least ambiguous? Then the writer mulls over what she and her unfamiliar lover will discuss at dinner. She wonders whether she’ll make sense or bore this lover she has only met hundreds of times. Instead of sitting down to write just one more essay, she gets up—right in the middle of the date—to do laundry. Maybe her closet needs organizing or her bookshelves need dusting. But the diversions are pointless. Her paramour, the blank page, is still sitting at the dinner table, waiting for her amnesia to fade. She can’t use his bad breath as an excuse to relieve herself from her duty. Only when she calms her wayward thoughts and begins to fill that page with words and ideas can she rediscover her great love. The deadline looms, and she begins to write.

The writing process, similar to those first few months of getting to know and admire someone new, is long. Does every topic sentence point back to the thesis? Can this word be substituted for that? The questions could go on endlessly, but the writer pushes on through her discomfort, worry, and confusion. As her thoughts materialize on the page, recognition floods her amygdala. Smiling, she realizes that she has known her unfamiliar lover called writing all along. She pulled out a few strands of hair in vain. Holding hands, she and her lover skip down an endless, rose-lined path of bliss. She is joyful, satisfied, brimming with love—until she she must write again, at least.

Discipline + Drive

You can be smart. You can be talented. But if you don’t have the drive or the discipline, you won’t go very far. Having drive means that you’re motivated to act. You feel compelled from within to pursue your goals and dreams. Discipline takes that motivation a step further: You know that the work will be difficult, and you’re willing to push through it. You’re willing to make sacrifices–less sleep, less fun, less comfort–to get where you really want to be.

Growth begins when we step outside of familiar comforts and thrust ourselves into the vast unknown, into the dark mystery of what could be. And to stay afloat in this new territory, we need to be driven and disciplined. Natural ability is not enough. A folder full of contacts is not enough, nor is a head full of dreams. To be powerful, to be great on your own terms, is to be disciplined and driven.

Skills are only part of the equation. Motivate yourself, then control yourself. That’s how you become victorious.