Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Incentives and Rewards

Ask any child who has been in school for the past couple of decades what teachers did to get them to work.  Ask anyone whose livelihood depends on receiving a regular paycheck what gets them to work every day.  Ask anyone training for the Olympics or the Symphony or the stage what gets them to practice.

We all need a reason to do what we do, and many times that reason is that we'll receive something in exchange for doing it.

I didn't realize how much time had changed until my daughters started school and came home with something called Bonus Bucks or even a colorful pencil or handful of candy.  Teachers had learned that using incentives helped students try harder to get their work done so they could get a small reward.  I don't remember incentives other than good grades when I went to school.  My parents didn't pay me for my grades and, in turn, I didn't pay my children for them either.  The incentive wasn't tangible at the time and wouldn't be until I held a diploma aka reward in my hand.  That was the incentive and the reward for studying.  Either way, we had a reason to go to school and learn.

As writers, we, too, need incentives and rewards to keep at our craft, to put words on paper, to finish the book, to bite the bullet and send it to an editor or agent.  There's no reason to list the rewards.  Anyone who is seriously writing knows them as well as their own names.  It's the same for published authors as it is for those not yet published.  We all want a finished product to put in the hands of readers who will enjoy our words.

The longer we write, the more we forget about the little things that can help keep us going.  I'm as bad as anyone else about writing every day, even though I know it keeps my brain fresh and my fingers more nimble.  Or nimble, at least. :)  Since February, I've been working on deadlines for two books that will be available next year.  That's seven months of telling myself to write every day and making a schedule so I don't lose sight of where I am and where I need to be, when I'd rather be doing anything else but writing.  It's easy to procrastinate in the middle of a book.  Weeks have been spent writing, and weeks more are needed.  It's like standing in the middle of a tightrope.  Where we came from is the same distance as where we're going, and the best we can do is hope we don't lose our balance.

Over the past seven months I've learned a few lessons.  Although small, they're important.

  • I should always...ALWAYS...count on something coming along to screw up the perfect schedule I created with lots of extra time built in.
  • While I used to write at night, now I'm up early in the morning to take grandkids to school, so by the time 9 p.m. rolls around, it's as if my memory has dried up and blown away.  I'm lucky to remember my own name, much less the names of my current characters...or family.
  • I can't always count on weekends for catching up on the writing that didn't get done during the week.  Someone or something will always come along and steal my time, whether it's an unexpected visit from one or more of the g-kids, an unplanned shopping excursion, or a car that won't start.
  • Even when I think I'm almost done, I'm not.  There's always another story rattling around in my head before the first is finished.  To be honest, there should be.
  • ....  Can we say brb?
Right.  I didn't finish that last one.  I forgot about an appointment and had to leave, so 5 1/2 hours later, I'm back and don't have a clue what that last one is.  See how that works?

Back to the topic...
Big rewards are good, but when looking at the goal from three months out, that reward dims in the light of day.  The cure?  Choose small, daily incentives with rewards to keep moving along.  That doesn't mean spending money.  There are many things that can be even more helpful to meet those small, daily goals.  It's the new fall season for TV, and what better time to set a goal and work to reach it before your favorite show comes on?  Or maybe a chapter of a book you want to read.  Or, like me, just being able to mark my progress on a calendar and word count table can give me a lift or be an incentive to do better the next time.

And for the rewards?  Something special, always.  Today I was able to put FINIS on my current work, so not only is the pressure off, but I have a few days to kick back and be free from writing.  Not much of a reward?  Maybe not, but Fall Renaissance Fair is this weekend, and I know of a special gift to get myself.  Then back to work on Monday and a fresh new start on a new story and new schedule.

Have a wonderful rest of the week!  Make your journey as joyous as your destination.
Call it what you will, incentives are what get people to work harder. ~ Nikita Khrushchev 


Joanie said...

I'm still running behind on my blog reading, but had to say this one is a must read for all writers. It's so easy to get caught up in life--you're so right about rewards. But right from the start of the blog you hit gold when you opened the "practice box" and told us to enter. Knowing we need to write every day is instinctive, but that procrastination gene we writers seem to carry just makes us fight it. I keep this Gregory Maguire quote on my wall to remind me when I want to slack off:

"As a swimmer, one does laps; a pianist, scales. As a writer, one uses words as a kind of sandpaper, not to smooth out the surface, but to rub off the skin of the world and find out what it's really made of.

This is a daily process."


Rox Delaney said...

Great quote, Joanie!!! I'm hanging that one as a reminder.

I just told someone yesterday who was saying something about how hard it was to find time to write, I, the Queen of Procrastination, answered with, "You have to MAKE time."

Oops! It's time to practice what up preach or shut up and sit down...which would probably be done at my desk. Hmmm, a win/win situation.