Do you reward yourself for writing?

I’ve been reading an interesting book about willpower, The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal. It’s both an explanation of how willpower works and a manual for strengthening it.

A few chapters ago, one of the exercises was to reward yourself for doing whatever you put off: drink hot chocolate while doing paperwork, watch television while working out, scratch off a lottery ticket every time you complete a household project. (Those are examples of what her students have done when she’s taught this as a class.)

Which got me wondering about rewarding myself for writing. I’ve tried this in the past, and it didn’t work. It didn’t work over the past couple weeks, either. Apparently I’m just not a reward-driven person. Whatever my goal, I’m not going to reward myself with food or time, since either would be counterproductive. (“I wrote a chapter! Time to take an evening off!” leads down a bad road.)

Rewarding myself with money/things doesn’t work either. I’m pretty frugal by nature, which means a) there’s not much I want enough to make it an appealing reward, and b) if I really want something, I tend to buy it because that doesn’t happen all the time. I was going to buy myself a piece of jewelry when I got a hundred rejections, but never got around to it. I was going to buy a new bike after I did a triathlon last fall, but never got around to that either (I might get one this summer, because I want one rather than as a reward for a race I did months ago).

Rewards just don’t seem like a useful motivational tool for me–my reward for writing is getting stories done. Do rewards work for you?

7 Comments

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7 Responses to Do you reward yourself for writing?

  1. I’m pretty much with you. Writing is its own reward, and nothing I could do as a reward would be more satisfying than writing something I was pleased with.

    Having said that, there are a two things that sometimes work for me.

    One is posting tiny fragments of work in progress. When I write a sentence or two that I really like—and when it wouldn’t be a spoiler for the story—I sometimes post the fragment on Twitter or Facebook. (I also do this with fragments that get cut when the story moves out from under them.)

    The other is exercise. When the writing is going especially well (or especially poorly), I’m prone to sit at my desk and keep plugging away. What I need to do, and what I try to frame as a reward for my diligence, is to get up and walk (or run or do taiji or go for a bike ride) several times during the day.

    Are you familiar with the work of Alfie Kohn? He wrote a great book called Punished by Rewards, which lays out the evidence that reward- (or punishment-) based systems of motivation are counterproductive for motivating people to do good work. Well worth reading.

    (I’m another Champaign-Urbana writer of speculative fiction.)

    • Elizabeth

      I enjoy reading other people’s snippets, but I’ve rarely posted any of my own. My first drafts are so rough, and (right now) I do so many revision passes, that I nothing feels like something I want to share.

      Never thought of exercise as a reward. It’s just something I do, and sometimes have to struggle to keep from encroaching on writing time.

      And hooray for writers from C-U! The internet is strange: I’ve “met” so many people from around the world, but it’s not always easy to find people who are physically nearby.

  2. There have been a lot of sf&f writers from C-U, but they don’t seem to stick around. There’s even an old joke about local writers that goes something like:

    “Tell me about the Champaign-Urbana writer’s movement!”

    “Mostly it’s to Eugene, Oregon.”

  3. Hi Elizabeth,

    I tend to agree with Phillip: writing is its own reward. It’s pretty awesome when I made my daily word counts or finish a chapter, or complete a short story. I guess I’m at a point where the end goal is submission, so I’m looking at it big picture: completing these smaller units of measurement will get me to the submission side. I can say I didn’t always think this big and that might be part of it.

    There is one exception, but it’s not so much a reward but a celebration. Usuallly when I get something into publication, I’ll buy myself a speical treat at the grocery store. It’s silly, and it’s not a reward, it’s just something special to celebrate.

    I have to say, also, that we’ve been potty training my poor son for so long now that the rewards have lost value. It’s lost his motivation. So yes, rewards for motivtivation can be dangerous.

    • Elizabeth

      Potty training is a good example of the outcome being its own motivation. Can you imagine if a kid didn’t get that eventually? :)

      I do like celebrating when I sell something. You’re right, that’s different from a reward. The thing I’m celebrating isn’t one I have control over.

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