The Writing Life

Still More Carrots and Sticks

Several weeks ago, I posted some of the responses I received from some of my favorite writers (who are also clients) to the question, “Do you motivate yourself to write with a ‘carrot’ (reward) or a ‘stick?’” I was fascinated by the volume and variety of the responses, the last of which I relay below. I hope you find them as enlightening and encouraging as I do.

“When I’m facing a deadline, I institute two rules: 1) I must keep my behind in my chair (except for bathroom breaks!) and 2) I must turn off the Internet. These eliminate 99% of the distractions that get in the way of my writing. When I’m facing a difficult section, even folding laundry can seem urgent–and even fun!–and Twitter can become a serious time waster. But if I stay in the chair until the hard work is done, with the Internet off, I reward myself with whatever I’ve been longing for that day–a walk to the park, a nap, or that episode of Top Chef I’d been saving” (Courtney Ellis, author of Uncluttered).

“I love writing, but I don’t like the way it occasionally doesn’t love me. Which at times makes me want to break up with writing. To overcome the resistless urge to just close my laptop and walk away, I tell myself, “Just gut it through this one last thought. Don’t leave any dangling intellection. I’ll come back after a cold Diet Coke.”  Amazingly, just the thought of feeding the addiction (yes, I’m addicted) is enough to chase away the notion of breaking up. Afterwards, I realize we really do love each other. Actually we renewed our vows twice while completing the manuscript (J. Otis Ledbetter, author of Soul Hunger: Satisfy Your Heart’s Deepest Longing).

“I avoid any system of rewards/punishment in my life. It stresses me out and takes away my pleasure in completing a task. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, either. Instead, and especially because of my health issues, I have developed a system of grace and praise. If I’m having a particularly difficult day, I give myself grace that it’s okay if I only write 25 words. If I’m having a better day, I offer praise to God for allowing me to write however many words I can write—whether it’s 100 words or 5,000. I have learned an important lesson. God will provide what I need to complete the task He wants me to complete. My job is to be obedient and use that day’s manna. For me, it’s about obedience, not competition” (Karen Nolan, author of Above the Fog).

“My motivation to ‘write on’ is the reward of hitting ‘Publish.’ I love the process of giving the words the time they need, yet the waiting for them to age and mature and become what they need to be can be trying. I’m driven forward to keep writing and keep refining by the satisfaction of pressing ‘Publish’ and sending my words out into the world” (Eryn Lynum, author of 936 Pennies: Discovering the Joy of Intentional Parenting).

“I don’t let myself go to sleep at night until I’ve hit my 2,080-word quota for the day. Typically, I’m a morning writer, so that isn’t too hard, but on busy mornings, I might only get to 1,500 words before I have to stop and take the kids to school. I have to carve out time to jump back in my creative zone for 580 more words. Otherwise I’m staying up past my bedtime” (Jessica Brodie,

“Every time I write 10,000 words, I eat a piece of my favorite double fudge chocolate cake. As an extra incentive, I bought a whole cake from the bakery and froze individual slices. Some weeks I receive my reward, others I open the freezer and stare at what I missed. Maybe a better goal for a chocoholic is 5,000 words a week” (Jenny Lynn Keller,

“I think I’m motivated by compulsion and/or escapism. If I don’t write every day, I feel like I’ve been completely unproductive/something is missing. I work a day job full-time, so when my alarm goes off at an outrageously early hour in the morning, I immediately tell myself, ‘I’m not going to get any further on my WIP if I hit the snooze button.’ In addition, I find that ‘escaping’ into the world of my newest WIP is a respite from the day-to-day grind. In short, I look forward to writing. No carrots or sticks needed” (Megan Whitson Lee, author of Dangerous to Know).



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