Gold Star! Reward Systems for Writing

How do you reward yourself for writing, if you reward yourself at all?

Do you save a nice dessert or snack for finishing that chapter? Do you hold off on watching TV or reading a good book until you get your wordcount done? Do you say, “No doing the fun thing until the writing goal has been achieved!”?

And how often do you do the fun thing anyway?

I’m trying a new method that seems to be working pretty well: STICKERS. Shiny, colorful, sparkly stickers. I’m reviving the childlike wonder of completing a daily task that I don’t always want to do, because that’s what writing is all about, right?

I can’t really speak to creating a writing schedule except that I know it should be done if you want to write consistently and professionally. I’m still trying to figure mine out but I elected to devise the reward system first so that I already have rewards for sticking to whatever schedule I create.

But, while everyone seems to acknowledge that a reward is meaningful, there isn’t a lot out there on what other writers do. Maybe it’s too personal or specific or maybe we don’t want to admit that…

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writing should not be considered the reward for writing. 

There, I said it!

ph1nk

Yes, and I have the science to prove it.

If you want to be a professional writer/author, or a consistent writer, you need to establish an association between writing and feeling good. The stronger the association, the better. The easiest way to do that is to condition your brain to expect a reward for completing a specific writing goal.

I’ve tried a few different things like food or holding off on Netflix or adding on extra chores and they were all just too involved. I think I was diving in when I needed to just dip my toes in the writing-reward water.

Then, I saw this vlog by V.E. Schwab and it basically was like I got permission to do something I’d kind of wanted to do for a long time: Put stickers EVERYWHERE.

And by “everywhere,” I mean on my planner and only on the days where I actually complete my writing goals.

I have four types of stickers:

Colorful stars – for completing that day’s writing goal (as indicated on the planner)

Silver stars – for completing the editing goal

Puppy paws – for completing a chapter

Party owls – for completing a draft (short story or novel)

20150810_203050
Zoe gets a party owl for being super-cute. She’s truly an inspiration.

I bought a few packs and used stickers I already had, saving the smaller stickers for more common goals and larger stickers for bigger, less frequently-accomplished goals like finishing a chapter. This makes the owl and puppy paw stickers more valuable in my mind, because they’re rarer. I get a star anytime I complete a writing goal, so finishing a chapter means I get a star AND an owl.

It doesn’t sound like much, but your brain doesn’t need that much to go on. Let’s look at writing a typical blog post and using this reward system:

Did I finish this blog post on time? Yes, so I get a sparkly star.

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Star sparkle has been muted for your protection.

I’ve accomplished something and I have the glittering sticker to prove it. BOOM. Neurons fire in my brain and strengthen the pathway in my mesolimbic dopamine system that says, “Writing will help us survive and pass on our genes. Writing is good!”

Writing consistently becomes an evolutionary advantage, according to my brain.

It’s not that I deserve a reward (because sometimes I do the bare minimum just to keep on the schedule and reinforce that pleasure pathway), it’s that I’m using evolutionary biology to train my brain.

And I can do it with a little sticker. Isn’t the human brain amazing?

How do you reward yourself for writing? Leave a comment below!

Author: JA Goodsell

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is INNATE, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @JAGoodsell or Instagram at books_and_dogs

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