Author Bob Hostetler

Carrot or Stick?

Some writers motivate themselves with a “carrot” and others with a “stick.” That is, some use rewards for motivation (i.e., “a Snickers bar if I write 3,000 words today”) and others lean more on—for lack of a better term—punishments (“No soup for you!” Okay, that’s a Seinfeld reference, but I hope you get the gist). I asked some of my favorite authors and clients what works best for them. Here’s what they said:

“I work well under pressure, so deadlines are great for me. May sound silly, but I open a fresh bag of M&Ms as fuel for the journey and sit down at my desk. After I meet the deadline, I’ve been known to treat myself to a pedicure and dinner out with my husband. Then I read a book for pleasure” (Angel Moore, author of A Ready-Made Texas Family).

“I’m more of a ‘stick’ girl. It’s amazing how much I get done on a deadline (and how little happens without one). Between deadlines, my ‘stick’ is accountability to a critiquing group. We meet weekly (Becca Witham, author of The Telegraph Proposal).

“As a busy mom of four who is constantly trying to juggle family life and writing life, writing in itself serves as my carrot. Writing is the space where I commune with God, put words to all the thoughts swirling through my head. I look forward to this sacred time. If I get the groceries, fill out the forms, email the school, then … I get to write” (Laura L. Smith, author of 5-Minute Devotions for Girls).

“When I was in a writing slump, I decided to have new pictures made that reflect my business brand, Sweet Tea Wisdom; Southern Fried Humor. This led to writing a new book” (Jane Jenkins Herlong,

“I use rewards because all the research says rewards work better. I use little rewards like checking a sports score or going down the hall to get my mail, and big rewards like reading an email from my wonderful agent. There is one more thing and this is huge. By drinking 60-80 ounces of water per day my productivity goes WAY up” (Rob Currie, author of Hunger Winter: A WWII novel).

“I’m a morning person and often get my day’s word count done before the sun rises. Then I consider myself “free” to do whatever other tasks require my attention throughout the day without guilt—reading, jigsaw puzzles, weeding the garden, even housework (yes, really). Sometimes I’ll set a kitchen timer for thirty minutes of intense writing, no interruptions, with the mental promise that I can do such-and-such afterward, guilt-free” (Patrice Lewis, author of The Simplicity Primer).

“For me it depends on the day. Sometimes I allow myself to watch an episode of some BBC series. On other days it might be allowing myself a piece of chocolate I have been saving. Other days, it’s the stick. I sit myself down at my computer and don’t move until I’m finished … no extra coffee or lunch or a nap … zip. If I’m really not feeling motivated, it’s both” (Michele Howe, author of Strength for All Seasons: A Prayer Devotional).

“When working on my book I used the carrot and the stick. The stick was no internet from eight to midnight for three months. I know it sounds crazy …. no internet is like no air, water or food … but removing the distraction was powerful for keeping me productive. The carrot was the mini wins I would celebrate after each completed chapter. I’m not supposed to have stimulants like chocolate, caffeine, or looking at my wife for more than three seconds at a time. But when I finished each chapter I allowed myself a cheat treat” (Dan Stanford, author of Losing the Cape: The Power of Ordinary in a World of Superheroes). 

“Ice cream is my carrot and my stick. I have mini M&M’s with my ice cream on carrot days. No M&M’s for stick days” (Leanna Lindsey Hollis, M.D., writing at Faith Lived Out Loud).

“I don’t use carrots or sticks. I use lists. I’m a task-oriented person, and I love the feeling of checking off a box on my To Do List. And at the end of the day, if that puppy is mostly checked off, whoowee! It’s a good day” (Lori Hatcher, author of Hungry for God … Starving for Time).


Do you use one or the other? Both? Neither? Do tell. (And stay tuned for more carrots and sticks next week).



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