I once worked in an office where every time a new client was signed, someone would ring a bell. It was a successful company so the ringing got pretty old after a time. I took to impersonating Quasimodo putting my hands over my ears and crying, “The bells! The bells!”
You had to be there.
Eventually someone got the message and they tossed the rotten thing in the bin. The bell-ringing ended and was changed to weekly pizza. Which also got old eventually.
Although the type of celebration was a bit dull, the concept behind it was good. We owe it to ourselves to stop and acknowledge it when we have accomplished something.
Forget the stick; this week it’s all about the carrots.
When I was at university, every time I got a First on an exam or a paper I treated myself to something in leather. Don’t ask me how the leather thing began. I really don’t remember. But over my scholastic career, I got a leather jacket, a leather-bound notebook, a new watch with a fabulous leather strap, and so forth. Even though these were treats I was giving myself, I looked forward to them and I believe they made me work harder. I still have all of these things because leather is durable, and they still make me smile when I use them. And in case you’re wondering, no, I never cheated by giving myself a reward for a mere 2.1. If you award yourself when you haven’t met the standard, it stops being an award and becomes merely an indulgence.
When you are a writer, though, it’s sometimes difficult to get those pats on the back. Now, I know what the non-writers are thinking: You sold a book. You have your name on a book jacket. Your stories appear in print — Isn’t that enough for you? Jeesh!
Well, no, it’s not.
In the first place, events like a book release seldom happen more than once a year, unless you’re Isaac Asimov or Georges Simenon. And for many writers, years can pass without a single sale. It gets lonely and depressing when everyone else is asleep and you’re still up at 3am writing your masterpiece. A little self-love can help. No, not that sort of self-love.
For a long time, I just finished a piece, submitted it with crossed fingers (which made applying the stamp pretty tricky), and just moved on to the next project.
Being in university reminded me that the reward system is powerful. And after I graduated, I found I missed the excuse to buy leather, and I missed the thrill of getting a top grade for my work. So I started rewarding myself for completing various writing tasks.
It’s all too easy to finish a job and move on to the next one without taking a moment to acknowledge a job well done. But rewards are important and no less significant if you recognise yourself rather than have someone else do it for you.
How does it work?
- You must set a goal and it must be specific. Number of words to write in the course of a day; the completion of a specific project; getting a story accepted for publication. You did great, celebrate!
- The goals should stretch you so the awards are justified. If you throw a party every time you write one page, you’re going to get sick of parties and eventually you’ll realise that writing one page is just not that significant to warrant the hoopla. Throw a party when you finish that novel, though, and you’ll really have something to celebrate. Just don’t forget to invite me.
- You have to stick to the rules. NO CHEATING!
There are some other things to take into account too. Here are some ways you really should not reward yourself:
- Food is a bad idea in terms of rewards. So is alcohol. In the first place, they can lead to problems such as obesity and alcoholism. In the second place they are too ephemeral. Ideally, you want an award that you can appreciate for some time. Like leather.
- Don’t give yourself time off work. I know it seems alluring but all you’re doing is telling your brain that work = bad; not working = good. What’s that going to do for your motivation? Besides, taking a break can kill your momentum. Better to reduce your workload for a couple of days. If you’ve been slogging very hard to get a novel written, for instance, it can be a nice change to work on a short story or a poem for a couple of days. Or don’t work on any specific project, just update your journal or make some notes for things you’d like to work on in the future. Indulge in writing about what you’ll do when you finally get that acceptance letter. That has the advantage of keeping you writing, while also serving to motivate you. Clever, eh?
- Again, don’t cheat. If you give yourself an award you haven’t properly earned then you’ve made the award inconsequential.
- The size of the award should fit the size of the task. My own personal caveat is you shouldn’t need a reward for merely completing a day’s work. The completion of that task should be its own reward. If it isn’t, then maybe you need to examine your reasons for writing. On the other hand, if you finish a short story you deserve a treat. If you get the short story published you deserve an even bigger treat. You complete and sell a novel, well, darling, there aren’t enough full-length Spike-the-Vampire type leather coats in the world…!
- Vary your rewards otherwise it gets boring. If it’s always the same thing, another DVD or a bunch of flowers, the system loses its allure. You’re a writer. Be creative.
In order to be effective, your rewards must be personal and something you wouldn’t ordinarily do or buy. If you would download a movie once a week anyway, then it’s not really a writing-reward, is it?
Here are some ideas for things you can give yourself:
For bite-sized accomplishments, such as completing your day’s work quota (if you must have a psychological cookie):
- Do a happy dance
- Tell yourself you’re fabulous (because you are)
- Have a cup of tea. OK, you can make it coffee if you’d rather. Step away from the booze.
- Go for a walk and remind yourself what the world looks like
- Phone a friend
- Have a bubble bath
- READ A BOOK
Here are some treats for bigger accomplishments. These might include as finishing a finishing a short story, getting a piece accepted for publication, or getting a great review:
- A new pen, notebook or journal
- A book
- Magazine subscription
- A cup with the word ‘Writer’ on it
- A manicure or massage
- A hair-do
- A movie
- An hour with a hobby you’ve neglected while you were writing
- Did I mention a book?
For more significant goals reached such as finishing your novel, or getting it published:
- A series of books. All the Hornblowers. All the Games of Thrones. The complete Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire if that’s more your speed
- A piece of jewellery
- A poster or framed photograph
- Subscription to an art gallery, museum, etc.
- A new laptop or tablet
- A holiday
- A new phone
- A camera
- A work of art
- A weekend away
- Concert tickets
- Tickets to a sporting event
- A car
- A pony
- A trip to Hawaii…
- OK, I’m getting a little carried away. Just throw yourself a “Because I’m Fabulous!” party.
- Or get something in leather
One thing to remember though, is never let the reward become more important than the work. The reward serves to support the writing, not the other way around.
You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.” — Anonyous, The Bhagavad Gita