Hello, friends! FINALLY, everyone’s settled into school and I’m back in a writing rhythm (until children start to get sick, of course). I’m making good progress on my WIP (huzzah!) and I want to talk today about writing incentives – aka straight-up bribery.
Let me start by saying it’s an enormous and inarguable thrill to get paid for writing fiction. Being a writer involves a huge amount of privilege and a certain amount of luck. But it also takes a ton of discipline – something I didn’t always know I had, or until recently failed to recognize as such.
As a graduate student, I wrote my essays and doctoral dissertation with grit and cold determination. There wasn’t much joy in the process – nearly all the mild thrills of having fresh insights into a subject and working out my argument had long evaporated before time came to Writing the Damn Thing. But I did. Once I’d finished my research and parked myself at the computer, I could crank out about a page an hour. That’s about 350 words an hour, sustainable for a maximum of 5 hours a day before I wanted to throw myself out the window. (Not literally. If academic writing actually makes you want to throw yourself out a window, even a fairly low one, please don’t. Please get help and seriously consider leaving the academy.) What I’m trying to say is, academic writing was hard work.
When I transitioned to writing fiction, I felt incredibly liberated. Here I was, writing WHATEVER I WANTED! No references required! If what I wrote was dull, I could delete, delete, delete. In fact, it was my duty to excise the boring. And yet somehow, I failed to recognize that some days would still be weary, fingers-to-keyboard, no-you-can’t-have-another-snack days. For some reason, I thought fiction would just flow from my tingling fingertips.
Four published novels later, it turns out that fiction-writing still requires grit and cold determination. Sometimes, there is little joy in the process. Sometimes, I have to write the equivalent of an introduction or a critical overview. Fiction, too, is hard work. And in my current quest to become ever more efficient at this writing lark, I’ve decided to turn to writing incentives.
Nearly every writer I’ve asked about this uses them. Erin Bow recommends stickers. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Stephanie Burgis loves chocolate. Graham Greene liked, er, amphetamines. (This last bit is only partly true: Greene wrote his first thriller, The Confidential Agent, in a benzedrine-fuelled six weeks. But he says that was his only foray into speed.)
I’ve never been much for external motivation (for one, I find it hard to suspend disbelief: this is all a fiction of my own devising, why should I obey my own rules?), so call it an experiment. A couple of mornings a week, I’ve begun working at the public library. If I hit my target of 1000 words in 2.5 hours, I get to browse the used book sale. No target, no used books for me. Also, I have strong feelings about the Pilot G-TEC-C4 pen, so I recently bought a package in rainbow colours. Every time I have a perfect work week – defined as a week in which I was diligent and productive and did not fritter away time on the intertubes – I will give myself the gift of a new pen. We’ll see how it goes.
Also! As I was writing this post, I came across this blog post by V. E. Schwab in which she asks 18 authors about their daily writing habits. Fascinating!
How about you, friends? How do you motivate yourselves to work your best?