Most authors, most of the time, will be intrinsically motivated to write.

We love the craft and the process, and we write because we’re compelled to do so by something deep in our souls. Our first reward, and sometimes our primary reward, for finishing a book or blog post is the joy of creation and the satisfaction of accomplishment.

Sometimes, though, we bite into an assignment that just doesn’t gel with our moods or short-term intrinsic goals. Maybe you’re a sports blogger who needs to cover the baseball Hall of Fame elections, but you can’t identify with any of the candidates. Or maybe your readers have been clamoring for the next book in your vampire series, but the whole story arc feels stale and unexciting to you.

You soldier on because it’s part of the job of writing, but procrastination and dread drags down your productivity. Wouldn’t it be great if you could recapture your enthusiasm and get moving quickly again?

Maybe you can, but it’s likely going to require some sort of extrinsic reward in order to spark your interest again.

That is, you can’t always rely on your love of craft to make you a productive writer. Sometimes, you need a “prize” for doing the work.

Building a Structure for Self-Reward

So, just what kinds of rewards will work for you? Can you really decorate yourself and feel good about it, or do your prizes need to come from external sources in order for you to feel good about them (a salary, for example)?

I think you can effectively reward yourself, but you have to be honest about the things that really matter to you AND you need to engage in a little self-deprivation most of the time.

Here are some ideas that check both boxes for a large swath of authors:

  • Have a bowl of your favorite ice cream every time you publish 10 blog posts, but never eat ice cream otherwise.
  • Take your wife out to a fancy restaurant when you finish the first draft of your book, but stick to fast food for your eat-out treats the rest of the time.
  • For every chapter you finish in that sequel that you don’t want to write, spend an hour researching sources for your pet writing project.
  • Buy a new writing toy when you finally reach a major milestone on your “undesirable” project — Scrivener and leather-bound notebooks are always good candidates.
  • Read a guilty-pleasure book to celebrate the end of your own hate-to-write book.

You get the idea.

The key is to identify a list of things you’d like to have or do and put it way somewhere. Then, when you find yourself seriously lacking in motivation and sabotaging your progress, pull out your dream sheet and pick your reward.

Set a date for accomplishing your goal and write that date next to your prize. If you hit your target, you get the reward.

Otherwise, the bauble goes back on the list for next time.

Of course, you should strive to work on projects that stimulate your enthusiasm and don’t require much in the way of external motivation.

No matter how well you plan out your writing career, though, you’re bound to trip into the muck at some point. If nothing else, success in one area will create demand for more of the same. That’s great for your ego but can blunt your fervor and leave you struggling to finish.

A golden ring hanging just beyond “The End” can help you find the oomph to move forward again.

How do you reward yourself for writing successes? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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