One of my favorite things to do is dig into the roots of common every day words and figure out the oldest original concepts tied to them. I do this because it fascinates me. I also do it because sometimes it informs and changes the way I think.
As a translator, I’ve learned to be sensitive to the connotations that color the words we use. Words are shaded with their various other meanings and significance within the culture cannot be removed from the minds of readers. When these meanings collide with the intent of the original text, a translator must select an alternate word.
Before undertaking this exercise, I often worried that I was not disciplined enough. I wrote this several years ago, but I think it is worth resurfacing.
Digging into Discipline
Of the nine meanings in the definition of the noun “Discipline” only one holds the spirit of a consistent writing practice: “2. activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training”. The remaining meanings are not positive; synonyms are under the entry for “Punish”. The etymology of the word at “disciple” is that of a student or pupil. As noted in the Online Etymology Dictionary, the “sense of ‘treatment that corrects or punishes’ is from the notion of ‘order necessary for instruction’.”
My internal editor enjoys inhibiting the creation of new work with censorship and tools of fear and doubt. She would too happily wield a whip to “correct and train” my creative spirit. I have worked hard to befriend my inner editor, to ensure that she and I are working on the same team toward a common goal of quality written work. To use this image offers too much power to the shadows of my inner world.
I will have to choose another word.
What about “training”? This is also relative to the idea of education – being “dragged behind” a teacher, so to speak. I wonder if a push-and-pull relationship is what I want to undertake….
“Rigor” is to stiff and “regimen” too authoritarian. To cultivate a “habit” implies too little conscious choice (after all, procrastination is a habit, too). A “routine” refers to “the beaten path” which the creative must strive to avoid!
I like the word “exercise”, the idea of activity and keeping busy, and the etymology of “removing restraints”. I also like the word “practice” though it implies habitual and customary work; it also refers to practical measurable accomplishment, even expertise. “Ritual” has a religious overtone that I don’t mind – why not use writing as a rite to the divine?
After much consideration, my favorite replacement for the word “discipline” is “diligence”. “1. constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.” The only connotations are “care or caution”, “attentive care; heedfulness”. Originally from diligere: “value highly, love, choose”, the meaning evolved from “love” through “attentiveness” to “carefulness” to “steady effort.”
The word diligence reflects a motivation of love, rather than mechanical habit or rote. Diligence allows for the care with which I must nurture my work; my internal editor morphs from a brutal sergeant into a cautious mother.
I no longer strive for discipline, but diligence instead.