Pavlov was onto something.
The cliché says that writing is its own reward. And the cliché is true. However, a system of physical rewards for your literary triumphs can be a powerful motivator in helping you reach the goals you set yourself. Ideally, these rewards are a celebration, an inspiration and a motivation. They’ll not only help you achieve your goals, but will encourage you to keep going.
Small Goals – Small Rewards
The daily grind of writing needs its daily dose of pick-me-ups. When I imagine office-life, I imagine myself completing a task, then taking a trip to the water cooler. Completing several tasks, and allowing myself a second cup of coffee. Completing a successful week, and allowing myself a Chipotle trip on Friday. Little things. Little rewards.
I imagine this because it’s what I do with my writing. Here’s a list of small rewards that you might give yourself for completing small, daily goals. Did you make your word count? Did you make your page count? Did you cut that scene and fix the transition? Congratulations! Now you can –
1) Surf the Web
If you’re like me, you turn the internet off when you write. It’s a distraction, a FASCINATING distraction. But, if you’re like me, you also have several bookmarked blogs, columnists or websites that you enjoy perusing daily. When you’ve completed a writing task, take a quick break by reading an article or checking a favorite website. The key here is to give yourself a limit — either a time limit (fifteen minutes works well) or a content limit (One article. Two articles. The latest updates on the Sartorialist. That sort of thing). It’s also good for your mind: it gets your brain on another track and will help you feel refreshed and focused.
2) Read a book
This can be dangerous. You might find yourself unable to stop once you’ve started a reading break. The key here, again, is to set a limit. A time limit doesn’t work quite as well — you might end up stuck between sentences! So, give yourself a page limit. Read one chapter. Or, if the chapters are long, read one section. Sometimes it helps to read a book you’ve already read, as opposed to something new, where you might find yourself wanting to read more instead of writing more. I’ve found “Harry Potter” to be a good go-to for this type of break, simply because I’ve read it so many times, but enjoy the re-read every time!
3) Watch a TV Show
It’s the end of a long day. You completed your goal—you wrote 1,000 words, five pages or completed your synopsis. Now it’s time for a full-on break. I’ve made a habit of recording my favorite TV shows and saving them for nights like this. When your brain is tired, pop in an episode of Downton Abbey, Modern Family or whatever TV show you really love. It’s still a story, and it can give great inspiration. Also, you don’t have to set a time limit—you know exactly how long it will be!
4) Treat Yourself
This, too, can be dangerous. Don’t starve yourself. Don’t skip lunch to write. Well, maybe eat lunch and write. And also, don’t gain fifty pounds eating chocolate every time you write a sentence. But, a small treat—I like to buy a Dirty Soy Chai Tea Latte—at the end of a good day of writing, is a great way to tell yourself “Well done!”
Big Goals – Big Rewards
This is where it gets fun. Have you finished a draft? Have you finished editing a draft? Have you submitted your manuscript to agents? Writers have big dreams, which require big goals, which, of course, require some big rewards. And, like goals, these rewards will also motivate you to get back on task, working toward the next big hurdle.
This is my personal favorite. If you are artistically inclined, create a portrait of your character! Or, if you’re like me and safer sticking to words, peruse a website like Deviant Art. You can find hundreds of artists willing to do commissions for relatively low prices. When I finished editing my first draft, I commissioned a portrait of one of my minor characters from an artist who was doing a special. For $15 I got a simple sketch. It’s nothing that would make it into the final version, but I enjoy having it on my writing board. A little extra inspiration and also a reminder that I’ve met some big goals already.
2) Create a Dream Cast
Dumbledore tells us that “It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live.” True. Very true. But, sometimes, especially when you’ve met a goal, it does just fine to take an afternoon off and dream. Imagine your book getting made into a movie. Now cast it. Some writers do this anyway, but I like to save it for a special occasion. In my case, it was the completion of a first draft. An afternoon of googling and fiddling with Paint gave me a break and a PDF of a dream cast that I used as my computer background while I was delving back into re-writes.
3) Spiral-bound Manuscript
I got this idea from Veronica Rossi. When you complete a first draft or a significant re-write, order a spiral-bound copy. Staples or other printing stores will do this for a small fee. Binding a draft gives you a cohesive picture of where you are, AND lights the way to where you’re going. Also, it’s nice to get away from the computer screen and edit on paper.
Tip: After you have gone through to edit this physical draft, write on the front cover all the goals you have for your rewrite. Do you want to take out a particular plotline? Do you want to create more consistency with a particular character? Is there a scene that just isn’t working and needs to be fixed? Write it all on the front cover. Then, when you go to print out the next draft, you have tangible evidence of the progress you’ve made!
And Now . . . Back to Writing!
Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” As writers we know this is true for the life of a book as well as the life of a storyteller. So savor your writing journey. Make it fun. Give it character and plot-points. Give it high moments to balance out the low. And, most of all, give yourself the space and time to feel proud of what you’ve accomplished. It will keep you writing. It will keep you reaching your goals. And that, as the cliché goes, is its own reward.
Bess Cozby writes epic stories in expansive worlds from her tiny apartment in New York City. By day, she’s an Editor at Tor Books, and Web Editor for DIY MFA. Her work is represented by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency. Tweet her at @besscozby, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at www.besscozby.com.