Author Confessions—Bribery Or Reward?
Do you give yourself writing-rewards? Celebrate when your book is released? Treat yourself when you sign on the dotted line of a new contract? Heidi Rice, Aleksandr Voinov and Robyn Rychards confess their indulgences (or lack thereof).
So when I was asked to write about how I reward myself when I finish a book, my first thought was…
Reward? What bloody reward?!
I know some authors have these cool rituals to reward themselves—a bauble, a glass of fizz, a night out, a new toy—when they finish writing a book. My problem with that is, with my process, there’s never an obvious time to celebrate. Maybe it should be when I finish the first draft – always the most painful part of the process for me and by far the longest. Finishing the first draft always feels like a major achievement which ought to be rewarded. But then, before I get to my reward, I usually can’t resist printing out and reading my story. Big Mistake! Huge! Because then I know celebrations are not in order. In its current state this story is a complete piece o’ shite! No book to see here… It’s gonna need some serious work.
Moving swiftly on, perhaps I could celebrate when I’ve sent it off to my editor? Usually a week or so later, after I’ve polished that turd to perfection and am starting to feel fairly good about it again. Hmm, no. Because the doubt fairies are already back at work, slapping me with their little tickle feathers of doom, and the agonizing wait for large or larger revisions has begun.
All right now, how about I celebrate after I’ve got my revisions? I’ve overcome the initial panic—WTH? These revisions are huge!—and managed to do them to the best of my ability and sent the story back to my Ed. Is now a good time to pop open the fizz? Nah, not really, because what if they’re not the only set of revisions? This isn’t over yet, that bloody story could well be coming back my way again. Even though I’m already thoroughly sick of it by now. What if I get second revisions? Or—please god, no—third!!
By the time my editor has finally accepted the book, and sent me the little email to say 'Thunderbirds Are Go', I’m already mired in the horror that is the first draft of my next book and probably already behind schedule so I’m back in ‘when is this nightmare ever going to be over’ mode … So ultimately the only tangible reward I get on having a book accepted is very much like the feeling you see on a charity marathon runner’s face as they cross the finish line after running 26 miles—at least half of which were absolute torture—utter, utter relief.
My reward—such as it is—is therefore reserved for the day six months later when the book is coming out and my author copies arrive. It involves me opening the box and taking one of the printed copies out, sniffing that lovely new paper smell and then sitting down on the couch in my study to read it. If it’s an ebook release, I will get a download and load it on my iPad and start reading… I’m far enough away from the writing of the book now to not hate the characters and I can read without prejudice and (hopefully) get the wonderful realization that… Wow! I wrote this. And I like it. It’s actually pretty good, not nearly as rubbish as I thought. Who knew, the hero isn't an asshat, he’s actually really witty and tortured and hot, and the heroine isn't a whiny doormat/psychopath, she’s actually kind of smart and sexy and relatable…
And then I might go and lie down for a while, exhausted by the joy and relief of it all. And consider buying a bottle of Prosecco to have with supper that night, and maybe some take-away so I (or my guy) don’t have to cook. And later, I can take pics of the Prosecco and the meal and pimp them all over Instagram and Facebook and Twitter boasting about my glamorous and wildly successful writer’s life and the new book I have coming out…
Then the next day when I sit back down at my computer and continue wading my way through my latest pile o’ shite and the doubt fairies of doom return, I remember the buzz of opening that box of books and reading one of them, and I know I can totally do this, even though most of the time it feels like I can’t. And the little burst of confidence that comes with that realization is the best reward of all.
Ha… Take that, doubt fairies of doom!
Our brains are programmed to seek pleasure, and we can use the same blissful hit of dopamine which keeps us addicted to Facebook and Twitter to get books done.
It’s not indulgence, it’s science.
We get more done with positive feedback, and rewards are an easy and simple way to feel good about writing, as the other rewards that are built into the system often take a while to happen. An agent might give you feedback three months after you sent in the manuscript, or a publisher might get back to you in 12 months. That’s a long time to stay upbeat about a project.
Think of it as a present, like a birthday present, except you are not celebrating your birth so much as the birth of your book. Or think of it as a bribe; we all know that in certain situations only a bribe will get things done. And while the morality is at best dubious in any other circumstance, I believe writing pretty much justifies all means. Nobody will care how you achieved your word count. Best of all—you will not go to prison.
With legal anxieties out of the way, maybe spend a minute to think about what motivates you and what makes you push just that little bit harder. Some people need positive feedback from outside—they should make sure they have supportive friends or crit partners. One of my friends has three crit partners who are only allowed to say positive things during the first draft, and absolutely nothing negative because my friend feels their motivation suffers if critique makes them doubt themselves. My friend will rush through a first draft like a runaway freight train, supported by a cheering squad that helps keep the momentum going (the actual critique happens after that first draft is done).
Some take motivation into their own hands. For me, personally, that was a bit of a puzzle. I’m mostly self-motivated; I’m actually productive because I like the sense of accomplishment, I like to get things done, and very often that is enough. I’m the kind of person in the office who looks forward to the weekend mostly so I can get my “other work” done.
That said, I’m not above bribing myself. My all-purpose rewards are shiny new notebooks or new pens. (I certainly already own more notebooks than I will ever live to fill in this incarnation.) For example, I love fountain pens, and have my eyes on one with the kind of price tag that puts it firmly in “graduation/retirement present” territory. I’ve been working towards it for three years; the goal I need to achieve to earn it is a very important financial and lifetime goal, and I should get there at some point this year. As far as I’m concerned, every time I’ll cap or ink that pen, I’ll feel just that little hit of pride that I’ve been disciplined for so long.
I’ve also worked out money is a good motivator for me (after all, money makes me get up at ohmygods o’clock in the morning to go to the day job), so I’ve set actual financial rewards. I have a little antique wooden box on the shelf near the writing desk for my money rewards. The actual pay scale doesn’t really matter, but let’s say, I pay myself £5 for finishing that chapter, or £20 for handing in the edits on time, or £50 for hitting “publish” on Draft2Digital. (You can adjust that method to your disposable income; one person’s £2 is another’s £20.)
I’ve realized it’s important for me that I take the cash out of my wallet and put it in the box; there’s just something about handling the actual coins and paper that helps me relate to the money. That money is for “No Questions Asked” spending; it’s for things I want rather than things I need or can justify any other way. It’s truly for indulgences like fountain pens that likely won’t write any better but cost five times what a perfectly serviceable alternative costs. Spend it on something that’s just for you, something that gives you a hit of dopamine. Importantly, I set the actual pay scale beforehand—for example, I pay myself for every 1,000 words, finishing a book, or completing edits/submitting a manuscript.
At some pre-set milestone, I get to collect my “earnings”; for me, that’s when I clear away the notes and paper and recycle my print-outs and outlines and research material. It’s when I clear the decks for my next book, and I start the process by spending the money I earned for the last one. But feel free to reward yourself for other tasks—completing promo, writing a blurb or blog post, or anything that goes just a little easier with a small bribe. Remember, it’s science.
And this post was just £2 towards that pen.
Aleksandr Voinov's latest book, Moonstruck is available now. You can find out more about Aleksandr on Facebook, Instagram or on their website.
Rewards... The eternal motivator since childhood, and it seems the older you get, the better the reward. No wonder authors use it to motivate themselves to get those words down.
If you're a self-starter like me, the sense of accomplishment in reaching a certain word count can be reward enough at times, but even us self-starters need that carrot at times!
With my first book, as an unpublished author, I was motivated by a good friend who was reading my story as I wrote it. I'd send her a chapter after I'd written and polished it, and as soon as she read it, she was begging for the next chapter. Someone loving my story and desperate to know what happened next was a huge motivator!
Since being published, I've enjoyed a variety of celebratory things when my book is released. Champagne, cake, ice cream, flowers. I've loved it all! But the biggest payoff for me is getting my cover.
I imagine all sorts of covers when I'm writing that story, then try to narrow it down when I'm filling out the art fact sheet for the publisher. But when the actual thing shows up in my inbox... Le sigh... I'm never let down and it all becomes real. The story in my head is finally an actual book. A book people all over the world will see and read. With my name on it.
Best. Feeling. Ever.
What rewards motivate you? Are you a self-starter or reward-motivated? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on our social media using #Confessions
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