Worth the reward

Working for yourself can be a lonely, frustrating endeavor. There are no coffee break chats with coworkers — you drink your coffee alone, watching the squirrel who is always wandering onto your porch. You cannot lure people to your desk with home-baked cookies — the cookies just sit there, calling to you from the kitchen until you’ve eaten the whole batch. And there is no one around to pat you on the back or to say ‘good work.’ There is only you, and the vaguely dissatisfied feeling that you probably should have gotten more done today.

Being a writer who works alone is perhaps even more frustrating, because the one reward you are working to, the one thing that might give you a sense of accomplishment and earn ‘well done’ comments from the outside world — publication — is a distant, not to mention uncertain, goal.

My husband is a behavioral psychologist, which means that we spend a strangely large amount of time discussing reinforcement training. I realized that my biggest problem as a lonely writer is my lack of reinforcement. Sure, I try to congratulate myself on getting another day’s worth of work on the page, but I needed some outside reinforcement, too. Then, a few week’s ago, I was reading Sydney Salter’s blog and stumbled on a solution. Sydney was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, a summertime version of the famous write-50,000-words-in-a-month challenge. In keeping with the camp theme, she had created care packages for herself — rewards for each 10,000 words she wrote. This struck me as genius, not to mention the perfect solution to my lack of reinforcement problem.

I put together three envelopes, each representing a progressively bigger task: 10,000 words written, a draft completed, a manuscript submitted. Then, for each level, I wrote out a series of rewards, little things that would serve as reinforcing treats. The ideal reinforcer is different for everyone, but some of my 10,000-word rewards include things like buying fresh flowers, getting a new book or going out for lattes. The idea is that each time I finish one of these tasks, I pull out a reward slip and treat myself.

Yesterday I earned my first 10,000-word reward (buying fancy cheese or chocolate, one of my favorite splurges). I’ll keep you posted on how the system works for me, but I’m excited to have a solution that gives me a much-needed pat on the back now and then.

How do you stay motivated when you’re working by yourself?

Categorised as: celebration, tips and tricks, writing

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