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, www.janeherlong.com).
“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).
These are great to use for ideas! I especially like what Laura said: writing is my carrot. Same here. But I also am starting a type of bullet journal to mark off my to do list in a new way. Thanks for sharing these!
I set up an email list for people to receive my chapters for free every time I finish one. Not a good idea for large established authors, but for me it worked. I have about 70 people signed up that I feel accountable to. And they sometimes send me feedback. I guess it works as both a carrot and a stick.
Brennan S. McPherson
I’m closest to Patrice Lewis. I have to get writing done first thing in the morning (after Bible and prayer time). After my daily 1,000 words are down, I’m free to go to work, be with family, take care of assorted duties guilt-free, which also keeps me more creative. The other key is that the Wi-Fi is totally unplugged during that morning writing time.
I’ve been asked how I motivate
myself the work of writing.
I’d be glad to elucidate,
but it may not be enlightening.
Rewards don’t really work here;
and I’m not asking for your pity;
each moment passes painfully
in cancer’s fell propinquity.
There’s likewise penalty enough
and I need not add one more.
I don’t have to prove I’m tough;
I’ve done that long before.
Writing’s just a job, you see,
and who’ll write my stuff, if not me?
And THAT, dear hearts, is how you mess up a rhyme scheme.
The second quatrain should have been:
Rewards on’t really work here;
and I’m not asking for your pity;
pain becomes the salt-teared mere
of cancer’s fell propinquity.
‘mere’ in this sense is the archaic word for sea.
And, if anyone’s interested, coming back here and correcting this reveals my motivator…professionalism.
One does one’s best in all things.
Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV) – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Heather Morse Alexander
I’m a carrot person. Little rewards motivate me to stay on task.
My favorite reward is a visit to an antiques store to peruse old photos…buying a few (or a hundred) with the potential to spark the next story.
a day without pain, a MOMENT without pain is the carrot… God bless you with many moments, many carrots, and prayers from us always.
Claire, thank you so much! 🙂
Many things motivate me. If I get ahead at work, I’ll take some time on it. In a sense, writing is my carrot at work. I write more when my children go to bed. I’ll work in their rooms, and my typing helps them fall asleep. That’s more of a carrot as well. I do set deadlines for myself, which is definitely a stick. It does help me to get more done, but sometimes my goals aren’t reached and it can be somewhat demoralizing. Usually, I’ll just change my goal and make it more realistic. However, my goal is to have a well-polished first novel, so adhering too strictly to deadlines could cause me to rush too much. So my greatest goal is to be able to read my work and feel it measures up to what I enjoy reading leisurely. That’s a carrot but the only way I reach is through patiently reaching after it with a stick.
I mostly use carrots, because I’m just not hard enough on myself to use the stick. Also, I know that writing pretty much goes out the window if I didn’t sleep well or I’m sick. So it’s really hard to punish myself even more for needing to nap.
My main reward are chocolate and the Great British Baking Show. When I finish a book or other big project, my husband takes me out to dinner.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I use both. I recently did CampNaNoWriMo where I had to get in at least 2 hours of writing every day of July! July is our busiest month of the year here at the camp where I live, but the stick worked and I got the hours in! I also reward myself with things like reading a novel, eating a treat, going on a nice walk out in the forest … .
I use both. I have seasons that are really busy, and I work for the carrot. Other times, I have to set deadlines for myself if I’m going to get anything done. Getting my husband on-board is really helpful because he is the go-to for the kids. And then, when I beat a deadline or finish my MS, we do something as a family, like go out for dinner, to celebrate.
I generally am the task oriented person as well as occasionally dangling a carrot before my face. I have a habit of hopping around doing all the tasks on my list in the wrong order though, the carrot at the end is always great when I finally reach it!
Sharon K Connell
Goes to show you that each individual writer has their own way of doing things. They have their own methods that work for them, where they wouldn’t work for someone else.
My carrot is the joy that I’ve completed my book and it’s published, plus I can move on to the next story. Actually, I don’t like carrots, so I guess it would be piece of cake. LOL
I don’t set deadline because, while I did work well under pressure during my career in the 9 to 5 world and had many deadlines to meet, I’m through with deadlines of someone else’s making or even my own. I work even better this way. No deadlines, only encouragement from God, myself, my husband, and my wonderful friend/fellow-authors.
Having said that, I do have a deadline with my Christmas novella to meet for the editor, in order to get it published before Christmas. I can do this, but generally, I like to write as the words come to me.
I’m a list-maker, but checking things off the list is my carrot. My OCD gets so much satisfaction by checking things off, and so much anxiety when I can’t. To maintain mental clarity, must write.
I’m more of a carrot person. Every Tuesday morning I go to my favorite coffee shop to write. When I’m done, I might treat myself to a cookie or a scone. I also am a list maker. I have been known to add something to my list I already did just so I can have the pleasure of checking it off. It energizes me.
Yes! Like Joyce, I have been known to add things I’ve already done to my daily list, just for the joy of checking them off.
And..deadlines help me too, as I write a newspaper column and a blog. Working under pressure seems to motivate me, although the older I get, the more I try to get things done ahead of time.
Bob, great questions!
I am into treats. Literal treats. A wee celebratory dance with sparkling cider. A dinner out. Dessert!
I write fiction and non-fiction, so when I complete 1500 words, I can treat myself to social media (even a break or two). I work on separating my blog into three to keep one as writing, one to address the Biblical, and one for medical and political. Who wants to read irrelevant to the authorship unless my Christian writing (fiction) is on WP?
A stick? Okay, on occasion, alright… daily. I must stop everything to exercise, improve my brain function, and my promise to be a physical temple to the Holy Spirit. That discipline by the way comes from God because my preference it to treat myself always, i.e. icecream, cake, junk, laziness.
I am a night owl and my best writing comes then. As well as the exercise. Everything must be done prior to midnight otherwise it doesn’t count, especially when a tough workout requires a shower like, immediately. Who wants to shower at midnight then freeze? Not me.
Writing or exercise? Hmmm.
Claire and Margaret, this is for you.
All writing is an exercise,
and all our life is, too,
for only thus can we reprise
what life has put us through.
We lift the weights to thus prevent
the times when we were weak,
and write for days of faith absent,
the times we could not seek.
We try to beat against the flow,
for the gilded dock’s green light,
in our resolve to new dawn’s glow
renewed, we carry on the fight.
Our life is a cycle of hard-won training,
for when He comes, with Him we’re reigning.
The ‘green light’ is a nod to Fitzgerald’s Gatsby; the image of the green light at the end of the Buchanan’s dock has long haunted me, and this seemed a good place to use it.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Laura’s story is mine, too, plus a generation. My four kids are adults, but now that two of them are 500 and 850 miles away, and they each have four children, all the things that keep that 12 of us connected take time. The children and grandchildren nearby (and my husband!) require prioritized time investments in that additional seven people, too. And I work and blog and write a newspaper column and volunteer and do the yard work…yada yada. Knowing I’ll get to work on my book after finishing a morning’s or day’s responsibilities is a great motivator to work smarter so I get to write longer. Now if I could just get a carrot or a stick to work on platform building! 😉
LInda, Been there; done that. I homeschooled a large family, which is why I wrote only for myself until they grew up. It’s impressive that you juggle so many balls in the air and still manage to work on a book and a newspaper column and a blog. Wow!
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Roberta, please don’t be impressed! It’s all give-and-take and balance, a touch of compulsiveness, and GRACE! I have a wonderful husband who is much more interested in supporting my many endeavors than in whether or not the house is clean and tidy, so it seldom is. I’m also an artist and musician, so our space is flooded with color (lots of red and stained glass windows) and art and music, but I just keep it clean enough to be minimally presentable and no danger to anyone’s health. ;-D And he’s a much better cook than I am–most afternoons when I come home from work he has supper in progress or plans for Culver’s carry-out, just a mile from home. He slings flour with reckless abandon, but he cleans up after himself. 😀 ‘Couldn’t do half of all I do without him.
You are so fortunate, Linda! Best wishes on your many endeavors. Blessings, Roberta
John E Connor
Carrot or stick? What nonsense. When I want to write, I write. When I do not want to write, I do not write. Simple. Amazes me how people try to make everything complicated.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Few of us have the luxury you described, John. Our lives are full and complicated and sometimes we benefit from prompts like the carrot-or-stick metaphor to aid us in prioritizing and making choices.
John E Connor
Prioritizing? Hmmmmmmmm. Ok. Sorry you don’t have the “luxury” you say I have. Maybe things will get better for you.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Oh, no–most of the time I’m not very concerned about things getting better in that way. I love it that I have so many interests and commitments and responsibilities that I have the opportunity to choose between them for how to use my time. My challenge is to make the things that will count for eternity the priority. Sometimes that gets challenged when I’d rather write or do something with or for someone else, but I have to mow the yard or else the crabgrass will go to seed. 😉
John E Connor
Good. Have fun.
I waited 40 years in education to retire and write! Teaching is 24/7 and writing for me is 24/7. Unfortunately, someone has to empty the dishwasher and do the laundry. So, I use writing as my stick to get those things done. I love to write. I did have one period of writers block that lasted three weeks. I tried to give myself permission to just walk away from it for that time, then I was back to it with a passion. I hope it will remain a true love the rest of my life. However, I am not married and don’t have kids. That is a huge difference! But I am active in my church! Best of luck to all writers! We are a special family!