15 September 2011

Good Habit #1: Rewards

You'll hear me talk a lot about how writing is my third job. I'm a mom to two boys (4 and nearly 2) and a middle school Language Arts teacher. Writing gets done when I can squeak it in and not a second sooner.

And, seriously, sometimes there are days/weeks/months when I don't get anything done. SOL time, holidays, family illnesses that crop up during the school year. Until and unless writing becomes a full-time job for me there are two jobs more important to me right now.

Don't get me wrong, I love writing. But there are really only 24 hours in a day, no matter how I look at the clock.

I get up every weekday morning and write from 5:30-6:00. Writing on the weekend is done during nap time or once the kids go to bed. My word count goals for first drafts are this: weekdays-1k words, weekends-2kw words/day. All in all, I'm looking for about 9k words a week.

However this doesn't always happen. In fact, this rarely happens. I cannot always meet my word count. Because, let's face it, at the end of the day, after teaching 90 13-year olds, after cooking dinner, taking walks, feeding chickens, and playing with boys, writing is not the top thing on my list. Sitting on my butt on the couch is.

This is one reason we don't have television. I would never get things done!

This is a good reason for my motivational technique, though. I buy television shows on DVD to watch. My favorite are, of course YA shows, such as my current favorite: The Vampire Diaries.

So here's how I trick myself:

Me: You have to write 1k words today.
Me: Okay, but what's my motivation.
Me: If you write 1k words today you can watch an episode of The Vampire Diaries.
Me: Ian Somerhalder as a vampire?
Me: Yes, indeedy.
Me: Where the computer? Let's knock these words out.

On a good day, I can get my 1k words out in my 30-minute morning writing. On an average day, I get about 500 words in the morning and then I have to force myself to write 500 words in the evening. On a bad writing day, I don't meet my word count goal. On a horrible day, I don't write.

But on those bad and horrible days I don't get to drool over Ian Somerhalder. I get sad. It hurts. And you're right if you think that works for added motivation the next day.

Here are my reward rules:
1. Find a reward that means something
2. Set a reasonable goal. You don't want to set yourself up for failure but you don't want to make it too easy on yourself, either.
3. Limit the reward. I only allow myself 1 episode (or one hour) of dvds per 1000 words. So, on the weekend, I may get to watch a movie, or two episodes of TVD.
4. If I don't meet the word count, I don't get the reward. Period.
5. If I want to watch more, I have to write more.
6. Adjust as necessary.
7. Also, and this one is just personal: I will not start my reward if I'm not done writing by 9:20. My bed time is 10:00--I give myself an hour to read and lights out at 11:00, so if the show doesn't start by 9:20, I won't be in bed by 10!
8. Extra words don't carry over to the next day. If I write 3,000 words on a Tuesday, that's great, but it doesn't mean I don't have to write for the next two days.

Some days are just bad, be honest. Some days are so horrible that no amount of reward, not even a shirtless Ian Somerhalder episode of TVD is going to help. Some days, I just CANNOT write and I NEED Ian Somerhalder.

It's okay to cheat. Sometimes.

But if you make cheating a daily habit, you've lost your reward system. So be careful how much you "need" to cheat.

Hey, if you want to be a writer, you've got to sacrifice for it, right?

So, how do you reward yourself?


Terry Spear said...

I work full time and write full time, well, promote and write full time, well, online teach and...okay so like you I have to get the writing in when I can. My goal is to get 5,000 words done a week. Sometimes I don't get that much because I'm working on final edits for another book that's coming out or for some other reason. Sometimes I get more done. Like you, I don't watch tv, but a reward is to watch a movie on occasion! But I do count if I get more done on one day, I have less to do on my weekend. And usually end up doing much more that way!

Unknown said...

Oh yes to shirtless Damon Salvatore as writing motivation. I have one more I bribe myself with...Glee. I love the show. I'm Team Finchel and have a crush on Will Schuster.

jeff7salter said...

Except for a few sustained bursts (several months each) of creative writing activity [poetry] ... I could hardly write ANYTHING during the 36 years or so that I worked full time.
My hat is off to anyone who can juggle a full-time job/career ... plus take care of the multiple family/home issues ... and still find time to write.
You DESERVE to have some rewards and the system you've devised sounds very workable. Also quite creative.

Leslie Ellen Wynn (Morrissette) said...

I applaud your discipline! I am divorced with three kids (17,15,12), going back to school and working part time. My problem is that none of my days are the same. I would say, however, that my reward, in order to get ANYTHING done is time spent out of the house. I spend most of my time IN the house, and getting out is usually a pleasant escape. And, it usually involves a trip to Starbucks : ) http://blog.becoming-me.us/

Clover Autrey said...

I like how you've sectioned off a half hour at a time. That is great motivation for me.

Ella Slayne said...

Great post! I used to give myself a hard time if I couldn't achieve my writing goal but now I've relaxed a bit because sometimes you just have to accept that life gets in the way! :-) I'm looking forward to a good writing week next week though - I've got some chapters to get down! :-)

Val P said...

For both motivator and reward: Can you say vanilla latte?!

Natalie Zaman said...

Well said dahlink! ...and I may have to try rewarding myself at smaller intervals (usually completion of something gets me something big) :) xx

C. R. Bailey said...

I'm awed by the goal and reward system. Thanks for sharing!

Jess Stork said...

I hate to admit it, but I've never been good with word goals. When I did nanowrimo, I used to reward myself with overpriced sugary drinks at the local cafe when I reached my word count. But I've found that if I set a word count it makes it hard for me to write, because I'm focusing on that and not on the story. Generally, if I cut myself off from internet, email and the plethora of books in my apartment, I can get into the writer's groove, and I'm surprised at how much I get done. However, I don't always have the same time restraints that others do.

Joy N. Hensley said...

Terry, sounds like you've got a good system worked out. Good for you!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Cate, my other bribe is Johnathan Rhys-Myers. It could be anything: Bend It Like Beckham, the Tudors. I don't care. :)

Joy N. Hensley said...

Leslie, Starbucks is an AWESOME reward. I just don't live closer than an hour to one. So that would *really* cut into writing time!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Natalie and Chris, rewarding is definitely a way to stay motivated. I will say however, that rewarding with food is not the best idea. A hundred words--some ice cream! A thousand words-a cake! I can see a problem here... :)

Joy N. Hensley said...

Jess, I'm not always good at them either, and sometimes it just doesn't work at all. But, I feel if I have a goal, and least I have something to strive for. If I don't, I'd never get anything done!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Clover and Ella, hope this helped! Thanks for stopping by!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Val--definitely love sugary drinks!!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Jeff--it's definitely a struggle. But, it's what I would love to do with my life if I could full-time, so I figure I have to sacrifice to get there, you know?

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