Rewards are important to keep us motivated and engaged. So while you’re waiting for the Sunday Times to telephone to say you’ve topped the bestseller list, here’s some ideas of how you should celebrate the process of writing.
Writing is tough – it’s a long process with very few rewards. In many ways it’s a denial of rewards. Shall I watch some telly or go to the pub with my friends or sit alone and stare at a blank screen – tonight and every night for months while I pour my heart and soul onto the page?
If we waited until our work was published or produced there’d be little joy in writing. I think it’s essential we celebrate along the way and my aim is to celebrate little and often.
Why rewards matter
Rewards are important to keep us going. Psychologist BF Skinner investigated their role in helping develop new habits. Giving ourselves treats along the way is a form of positive reinforcement that motivates us to continue. Without something nice and treaty we become “bored, discouraged and depressed”.
Get the balance right
It’s important to reward yourself – but not too much or too little and at the right stage. Too much and it all becomes about getting the reward, too little and you’ll loose motivation. Recognise there are different types of rewards and choose the level of reward that’s appropriate for your achievement. I reckon there are four levels of rewards:
- The gift is in itself – when the act brings its own reward.
- Treats – treating yourself to some simple pleasures.
- Milestones – acknowledging an achievement on the way to something larger.
- Celebrations – when a large goal or dream has been achieved.
Use treats to build a writing habit
Treats are the smallest type of reward, too insignificant to be a prize or goal themselves – but they are a sign of recognition, a pat on the back for getting on with things.
A treat is a small external reward – something that’s free or inexpensive, but not so mundane to be just part of your daily routine. Use them often but use them wisely.
Decide what deserves a treat
One day you write 1,000 words, only to delete the lot the next session. If you focussed solely on achieving a word count goal, you’d have little to celebrate. But you managed to squeeze two writing sessions into your busy timetable, and wrote, edited, perhaps worked through a problem with your plot. You earned an A for effort even if it’s an E for attainment. Now that deserves a treat!
Find your perfect treat
A treat is anything that gives pleasure or enjoyment – it’s very personal to you. It should be small enough to keep you going but not a regular part of your routine.
When I asked writers how they treat themselves they talked about a having decent coffee or nice cup of tea. A glass of wine is a little too much pleasure, especially if you write first thing in the morning. Many spoke of doing something physical, having a stretch, going for a walk or a run. For some it’s a small ritual to mark the end of a writing session – my weekend treat is to read the newspapers with breakfast after an early morning writing session.
The pleasure of weird treats
My treat could be very different to yours and could resemble your idea of a punishment. One of Gretchen Rubin’s treats is clearing clutter. She has friends who treat themselves by doing laundry or making travel arrangements. When I worked at the writers’ centre one of my colleagues treated herself by taking rubbish to the tip.
Why rewards matter
- Identify a reward when you set yourself a goal, it’ll give you something to aim for.
- There’s no such thing as a universal reward – one person’s treat is another’s trick – think about what will motivate you.
- The reward should be appropriate for the goal – a small goal should have a tiny treat whereas achieving a large goal deserves something more celebratory.
- However, don’t set your reward too big because your goal becomes about achieving the reward rather than what you need to do to get there.
- Celebrate the process not the outcome, every day you write is an achievement and though it might not feel like it you’re mastering your craft and getting better.