Dear Writer, Bribery Can Be a Good Thing

lilac cupcake

If you finish writing that scene, I’ll let you have this cupcake …

The first week of January is behind us. Our good intentions and resolutions are still written boldly across our hearts and days in what looks like indelible ink, but past experience has proven again and again that those fresh, black statements are less permanent than they seem.

In a few weeks time, it’s all too likely that our commitment will begin to waver, our resolve will begin to crack, and reality will insert itself into our daily rounds in the most inconvenient (not to mention inconsiderate) ways.

This is when you need to do whatever it takes to hold your ground.

This is not the time to let a little stumble send you sliding down the slippery slope of I’ll-get-back-on-track-tomorrow.

Don’t wait. Bring out the big guns.

When your inner writer begins to wobble, skip the pep talk and the whip cracking and go for the bribe.

That’s right. Bribe yourself.

This is no time to be squeamish. Your whole year is on the line. You want to establish the right writing habits right out of the gate.

What do you want? What do you really, really want?

Apart from finishing your story or novel or whatever (because, clearly, that isn’t enough of a motivation for you to keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game).

I’m not dissing you. Truly. The truth is, each of us has BIG wants and small wants. We have the long-term goals (write a book), but it can be hard to hold on to those in the short term. In the short term, I’ve found that things like chocolate, new notebooks, and even jewelry are much more effective. I don’t berate myself for this. I may be a writer, but I’m also only human. If I need a bit of a carrot to maintain forward momentum, so be it.

There are two basic types of bribes:

The Cascading Reward:

You have a lot of responsibilities in your life. You need to prioritize, right? That’s what the cascading reward system is all about. Though I have used this method in the past, I hadn’t known what to call it until I heard the gang from the Writing Excuses podcast talking about it. One of the writer hosts was explaining to a young writer that she could set up a cascading reward system that went something like this:

  • When I finish my homework, I can write.
  • When I finish my writing, I can go see see my friends.
  • When I’ve seen my friends, I can play XBox.

The idea is to keep egging yourself on with the promise of something better than what you’re doing now.

The Flat-Out Gimme-Gimme Bribe:

And then there’s the plain, old if-you-do-this-you-can-have-that bribe. This is the method used by generations of parents to coerce errant children into doing things like putting away their toys and earning good marks at school. Secret: it works just as effectively on your inner writer-child.

You can be all kinds of creative with the gimme-gimme bribe. You can set micro rewards like “If you finish this scene/blog post/chapter, you can have a cupcake/ten minutes on Facebook/a private sing-a-long with your favorite song.” For more challenging tasks, you can set more substantial bribes – maybe a new novel from your favorite indie bookstore, a trip to the local coffee shop for your favorite hot beverage, or a guilt-free movie night with your honey. And then there are the milestone bribes – the biggies that you can pin on your bulletin board like the proverbial carrot before the horse. This would include things like dinner at your favorite Italian restaurant, that snazzy new bracelet you saw on etsy, or even a weekend away. You might even promise yourself an adorable new kitten. (Hey – works on kids, right?)

The main thing – whether you go for the cascading or the gimme-gimme approach – is to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself on the straight and narrow. It’s all about results, baby. You just want to get “it” (whatever “it” is) done. Whatever tactic you choose, it’s a means to an end. That’s all. Don’t beat yourself up because you have to resort to bribery. I guarantee you that even the most successful writers resort to these techniques. We are writers. We love writing. But, that doesn’t mean it comes easily. Sometimes you have to grease the wheels a little. Sometimes our love of the craft isn’t enough. That’s okay. You don’t get points taken away because you needed a little extra help to get over the hump. Give yourself a break and go for the bribe. You might even have fun with it. Who knows?

QUESTION: Have you ever bribed yourself to meet a writing goal? What worked best?Β 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: QuintanaRoo via Compfight

28 thoughts on “Dear Writer, Bribery Can Be a Good Thing

  1. Unfortunately, bribes don’t seem to work on me. They didn’t as a kid to make me tidy my room and now as an adult I’m better motivated by enjoying the process, or annoyingly, by negative consequences. So far, writing is something I can still do for the joy of it and the reward of having completed my first draft is still enough on its own. A looming deadline is an unpleasant motivator, but often works πŸ™‚ even sort of artificial ones like the end of nano. Not that I’m averse to rewarding myself as well πŸ™‚

    • You bring up an excellent point – that bribes only work if you are motivated by positive outcomes. It’s very true that many people are consciously or subconsciously more driven to avoid negative outcomes than they are to pursue positive ones. I’m glad you do still reward yourself, though, even if it’s not what gets you there … it’s still nice to treat yourself well. πŸ™‚

  2. I love this theory, which is why I am now in the situation I am in. I have made a fool’s list of resolutions.

    Quit smoking. In the past, i would reward myself with finishing a task with a cigarette. Now, that’s out. When I resist the urge to smoke for a day, I would reward myself with some sort of dessert or IPA beer and single malt whiskey type food, but I also resolved to lose those 10 pounds I’ve put on in the past couple of years, so I am doing The Fast Diet, chocolate on certain days. When I have managed to go without a smoke and stuck to the diet (which is tough when cigarettes are an appetite suppressant), I would normally buy clothes and/or shoes as a reward, but I have resolved to not buy so many clothes and/or shoes this year and to rethink every impulse to buy something.

    The good news is, I have a “I’ve quit smoking and look at how much money I’m saving” jar that I put money into every week (average 5 packs a week at 55 SEK per pack…roughly $8.50, so $42 a week).
    The bad you know those people who say, “If you quit smoking now, you could have a Lamborghini in 10 years.” Yeah? Where’s your Lamborghini? And also, I’m a self-confessed shopaholic, with a love for cigarettes and partial to chocolate and beer and single malt whiskey rewards.

    Anyway, as mentioned, I love this theory. It rewards with all of the things I’m trying to quit πŸ˜€ Good luck to you and everyone out there!

    • My oh my, but you have a lot on your plate! Good luck with everything you are working on – personally and professionally. I’ll raise a glass of single malt whiskey to toast your success. πŸ˜‰

  3. Definitely feel this post. Last night I wrote a grand total of…..three pages in my novel. But today I’m determined to fire out at least 1000 words. And when I do, I’m going to reward myself with a nap πŸ˜‰

    • You wrote 3 pages more than I did. πŸ˜‰
      A nap is an excellent reward. Not only is it highly enjoyable, but it will also give your brain time to ruminate on what comes next with your writing. Perfect!
      Good luck!

  4. Yes! It works with my kids so why not me. I told myself that if I finished editing the manuscript I could buy that lamp I really wanted. I finished, and the lamp shines brightly. Probably brighter than the novel.

  5. I have never tried this before and to tell you the truth I think what will happen when I do. What will happen will I will bribe myself with a new notebook and instead of finishing my writing I won`t be able to concentrate. Plus, i love writing just the way it is.

  6. So that’s what it is. A bit of reverse psychology for me is in order. It would seem, now that you mentioned it, that I have things out of order. No wonder I can’t seem to find the right mood. OK, write first, then treat. Got it. Hollds up thumb. Thamkx. =)

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