Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Finish That Novel NOW!: Why Carrot & Stick Just Might Be the Way to Writing "THE END"

A few weeks back I had the privilege to listen to a well-known speaker in the field of education, Blake Boles. He works at Unschool Adventures, a company dedicated to creating meaningful educational experiences for teens. Some of these unusual experiences have been wilderness adventures, retreats of all sorts, and intense NANOWRIMO sessions where kids complete a novel in two weeks with mentorship help.

Blake Boles is the author of Self-Directed Learning and is a strong believer in building kids who direct their own learning. I was fascinated by his discussion on motivation which kept me thinking not only of my children's education but of my writing life.

Boles makes a strong and unsurprising case for internal motivation. He cited some fascinating current volumes which introduced me to some new thoughts on "flow" and "drive". I will be exploring how we might channel these concepts to enhance our writing life in future blog posts.

Dan Pink's monumental study on Drive suggests that these are the most important elements of motivation:

1) Autonomy – the desire to self-direct our own lives.
2) Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
3) Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

In future posts I would like to explore all three of these and how we can utilize them specifically as writers. But first I would like to tackle a method Pink claims is outdated.

Carrot and stick: Let's face it we are motivated by rewards and punishments. Time-outs on the mat and stickers were the methods our Kindergarten teachers used to keep us in line and we haven't changed much in some ways.

If you're having trouble reaching a goal may I suggest you need two simple components:


This could be the adult stick method. Fear of embarassment, fear of failure, fear of other's opinions of us loom large in our minds.

Alleycat pal Casey and my own husband can receive a large credit for helping me finish my first novel. If you don't have a real-life pal to hold your feet to the fire, there are great Facebook groups such as #1kanhour where you can find virtual buddies to write at the same time as you.

External deadlines are another method of accountability. We can talk about internal deadlines later, but I'm choosing to focus on the "carrot and stick" method today. Each time I receive a book from Library Journal there is a stamped sheet inside the cover with my review due date. Emails with article assignments include the same. These provide calendar motivation though it may seem simplistic.

Another form of self-accountability involves temporarily removing something else from your life in order to allow time for writing. The easiest thing to remove in this stage of my life is sleep which is why I often find myself writing during the nighttime hours. That being said, removing facebook or a hobby from your life would increase your writing time.


Mercenary or not, I don't have a lot of extra cash for writing pursuits so I am motivated by payment. Since I try to use my writing money for further resources to grow me that check is even more motivating.

The last several times I've attempted to write a novel, I have ended between 10,000 and 20,000 words. Because of the stop-go flow of my life right now, nonfiction seems to work for me as it is easier to compartmentalize while still maintaining unity in the whole work. Yet to increase my word count my husband came to the rescue again.

You are blessed if you have a cheerleader in your corner. In this case my husband is my biggest cheerleader. He knows I am happiest when I can pursue my dreams so he has offered up a motivator. He has offered me the choice to purchase a covered bookcase I've been coveting for years or to attend SHE WRITES conference when I complete my book.

He knows me and my style of motivation as a ticket to ACFW helped me complete my first novel.

You can also utilize rewards and removals for short-term goals. I will take the afternoon to read a favorite book when I reach my word count for the week. When I hit 10,000 words I will splurge on a white chocolate mocha. I will DVR Castle and there will be no new episodes until I send my proposal out.

Have you ever utilized a carrot and stick policy in order to complete a project?


Julia Reffner is also a contributor at Wonderfully Woven and Library Journal magazine.


kaybee said...

I motivate myself with the fact that it won't get done unless I do it. Which obviously wouldn't work for everyone. I motivate myself by reminding myself that my writing time is limited and I need to make the most of it. And I motivate myself with deadlines, i.e. NANO or a contest entry deadline. Right now I'm working on the sequel to the book I'm shopping around, and I motivate myself by reminding myself that IF the first book sells, somebody is going to want a sequel. Crit partners can also keep us accountable. I use the chocolate and TV as bait to get things done in my day job, which is ALSO writing (newspaper reporting). We all need to find what works for us, don't we?
Thanks Julia,
Kathy Bailey

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great methods, Kaybee. I love the idea that your writing is designed for you alone to do as a motivator. Deadlines and accountability partners work for me as well. I never knew you were a newspaper reporter, love it!

kaybee said...

Julia, yeah, the newspaper thing is better than not writing at all, although print journalism in this part of the 21st century is Not Always A Happy Place To Be. I get to retire in two years and I hope the medium lasts that long.
Thanks again for the post,
Kathy Bailey

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Julia, what a great post. :) I definitely set daily goals for myself. I have to look at each day and then determine how much time I'm going to spend writing. Then, I do it.

I don't let myself do certain activities until I've met my goal for the day. I love chocolate, but it doesn't love me, so I can only eat it once in awhile. Sigh.

I love that your husband gives you things like SHE WRITES conferences for finishing your goals. I may need to look at setting something like this up for me. After talking with my hubby, of course. :)

You've got me thinking.

Julia M. Reffner said...

KATHY, I understand what you're saying. My uncle has been in journalism for thirty some years as an editor and now his job is primarily blogging. Good luck to you and perhaps you'll be able to turn writing into your full-time job at that point!


Great idea to look in "day-tight" compartments and see the best goal for each day. And limiting activities is a good one that I don't necessarily use towards my writing but towards other things in my life. A writing related reward is wonderful because it increases the desire to continue on...

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Julia, I've always used a mini-reward system, too. It's been a huge help to me because it taught me the value of self-discipline for writing. That push to finish books, to plug through the middles, and gallop to the happy ending... Oh, gosh, a few nips of chocolate or the chance to watch Castle or NCIS... And that evolved naturally into the 1K/Day mantra I've used for the last decade. Once it's a habit, it becomes so much easier. I do it before my work day, and that's actually my pre-reward, because I'd rather write than do most anything! So that's my gift to myself, a quiet two hour stretch before anyone is here for daycare... and then I know I've gotten my writing done. And that 1K/day is over 300K/year, even if you take some days off! Great post... thank you for sharing it!