The ultimate reward of writing, obviously, is publishing a book and having it read to widespread appeal.
But long before reaching that point, should a writer reward the intermediate stages of his/her writing journey?
In the past, I’ve written not only about both the importance of goal-setting, but also of ensuring your goals have corresponding plans to power their fulfillment.
My favourite goal-setting methodology is that espoused by Vancouver-based psychologist Dr. Randy Paterson. He recommends classifying goals into one of two categories: ultimate goals and immediate goals.
The second category is a subset of the first one: immediate goals are ultimate goals broken down into their component parts that can be completed within about an hour.
This method has served me well throughout both the drafting and ongoing revision of my historical fiction WIP. I divide the ultimate goal of producing the novel’s final draft into hour-long writing and editing sessions, which I execute one or two at a time.
However, there’s one element of Dr. Paterson’s goal-setting strategy seems to be missing – one that other such methods tend to strongly emphasize.
Namely, rewarding oneself for interim progress on ultimate goals.
Which is already something I struggle with.
I’ve never been good about commemorating my interim accomplishments. I suspect this has to do with my upbringing; my father, who spent over 30 years in the military, and who is of a naturally ascetic bent besides, has always been devoted to the notion of duty.
He believes it’s inappropriate to either expect or except rewards for doing what amounts to one’s duty. This led to considerable disagreement on his part regarding such things as presents for getting good grades at school and allowance for doing chores when I was young.
This way of thinking – along with the inherent strength of discipline that fuels it – inevitably rubbed off on me. I truly do consider writing something of a duty, however self-imposed.
Another reason I struggle with rewarding myself for writing is because I’ve never been one to deny myself things I want or need if I can help it. Rather, if I can afford it and can easily get my hands upon it, the time to do so, I almost always agree, is immediately, instead of tying it into the fulfillment of interim steps in a long-standing goal.
Because really, I don’t need that sort of motivation.
So why does any of this even matter? Why the concern for rewarding my writing progress when I am indeed, readily progressing?
I’m not going to lie: discipline or not, writing can sometimes be a real slog.
It was Dorothy Parker, among various other authors who stated some variation of the quote, “I don’t like to write but I love having written.” Nine times out of ten, I feel the exact same way.
In truth, this is a fair bit of negativity that’s being imparted upon my work, in effect making it something of a labour of hatred, particularly in the absence celebrated milestones to mark my progress.
Another problem is the fact that, although my intermediate progress tends not to motivate me to acquire the things that I want, such progress does often prevent my doing so.
A case in point of this was my long-time need of a new teapot.
To a tea
I drink massive quantities of tea. Actually, I don’t drink “tea” at all – neither black, green, nor white – instead preferring what’s properly known as tisane – herbal tea, typically fruity varieties, rooibos, chamomile, and mint, invariably consumed iced.
For years, I’d been making due with a plain teapot I inherited when an old roommate moved out. This second-hand vessel had several hairline cracks in it that, while not leaking yet, looked to be steadily getting worse.
Here in the Vancouver area, we have a local gourmet tea shop that I visit often. Called Murchie’s, it sells many decorative teapots, any of which would have been a fine replacement for the precarious one I was filling with boiling hot water a couple times a week.
For some reason, though, back when I still only three-quarters of the way through the first draft of my WIP, I told myself I would get a new teapot when the draft was complete.
Well, the first draft ended with all the exultant midnight text messages I’d warned friends and family about (actually, it was only 9:30pm). And then nothing. No new teapot.
Partly this was because, at the time, I was over-budget in my discretionary spending and deemed it prudent to wait. More than that though, I knew that finishing a first draft is really only just the beginning.
The next thing I knew, I was launching into revision: I was reading through a hard copy of my manuscript and marking it up like a term paper; I was rewriting the first six chapters and soliciting feedback from other writers on the first two; I was re-rewriting the first four chapters based on writer feedback and awaiting new feedback on the new chapter one.
And then, I was sailing well past chapter seven – the end of the first one of three separate documents I was forced to divide my manuscript into in Microsoft Word – all the way to chapter fifteen, the midpoint of the novel.
Luckily for me, I’d previously told a friend about my original intention to buy the teapot at the end of my first draft. Not only did she give me a Murchie’s gift card for my birthday, she harassed me for weeks to stop putting it off and buy the damn teapot already.
So I did. And I love it. Every time I pour from it, I’m indeed reminded of all I’ve accomplished with my WIP thus far, and remain keen to carry on in the process.
Which, one would gather, is the whole point of an interim reward.
Generosity and trust
Author/playwright and creativity life coach Julia Cameron speaks of the importance of writers and other creative individuals rewarding themselves, and far more frequently than just the middle, endpoint, and arbitrary divisions of 7 and 21 of 31 chapters as I ostensibly set out to do.
In her bestselling self-help book The Artist’s Way, Cameron extols the virtues of going on “artist dates” – weekly solo outings that can be as inexpensive or as extravagant as one chooses – as a means of nurturing one’s inner artist child and recharging one’s creative well.
While not precisely the same thing as a reward for interim progress on a goal, the philosophy behind the artist date is fairly the same: that of acknowledgement, encouragement, and gratitude.
According to Cameron, resistance to rewarding one’s artistic self indicates “a fear of intimacy – self-intimacy” (p. 20). She equates this to any other sort of troubled relationship:
Often in troubled relationships, we settle into an avoidance pattern with our significant others. We don’t want to hear what they are thinking because it just might hurt. [O]ur significant others will probably blurt out something we do not want to hear. It is possible they will want an answer we do not have and can’t give them. (p. 20).
Artist dates and interim rewards are thus a sign of love and trust in one’s artistic abilities. They signify a willingness to believe your subconscious muse will sustain you indefinitely – that it won’t leave you in the lurch at a crucial moment after having taken advantage of your faith and generosity.
Fear and distrust are not sentiments I wish to incorporate into my writing life, however inadvertently. I want to believe in my muse and myself – in all I’ve managed to accomplish thus far and will further achieve in in the future.
And so, while I’ve already missed my chance to reward my mid-draft progress, I need to make a genuine effort to celebrate chapter 21 and the end of draft 2 with all the joyful offerings these milestones deserve.
I will drink (iced tisane) to that.
Do you reward your interim progress on your long-term goals? If so, how? What benefits does doing so (or not doing so) offer you? Let me know in the comments.
(Images: J.G. Noelle)
14 thoughts on “On Recognizing the Interim Rewards of Writing”
Your new teapot is quite fanciful. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were inspired to move in a new direction with your writing.
It is, isn’t it? Rather different than my usual aesthetic and not the one I initially had picked out. But it called to me when it saw it. I can always do with a little fancy in my life – my writing life as well, perhaps.
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Someone gave me a couple of nice notebooks. One is a journal, and the other is where I record, in handwriting, the notable writing events such as publishing, getting a scene finished, doing all the prep before writing… Each one is supposed to inspire Yay! and a fist pump to go with it.
We don’t celebrate our milestones enough – and you know how hard we work for them.
Nice! I had to put a moratorium on my collecting of journals, for as much as I love to look at them, I’m not so good at filling them in anymore even though I previously journalled for years.
I have a series of electronic journals in Microsoft Word for every novel I’m writing or want to write where I keep notes, brainstorm ideas, and record some notable writing events. But even in these, my milestones are a bit fuzzy: I’m unclear on when I first started writing my very first (shelved) novel; I didn’t record when I started draft 2 of my WIP this year. I need to get better at recognizing this stuff; as you say, we work hard for these little victories.
I’m constantly amazed at the VOLUME of writing I produce daily. I wish they were all fiction.
And I’m not that well organized, either.
But if you write it, you can always figure out how to search it later. If you don’t write it down, you’re relying on memory.
Storage is cheap, time-travel is expensive and not guaranteed.
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HELL YEAH I REWARD MYSELF.
Listen, I’ll take any excuse to spoil myself. So, when I finished my book I planned to buy myself something to celebrate. I finished in May, and I’m still not sure what I’m getting myself, but it’s going to be something big.
“I don’t like to write but I love having written.” – One of my fave quotes. Sometimes getting the words out is so difficult, it feels like they’ll never come. You feel like everyone else is doing a better job. Then once you Do get them out it’s such a relief and you can read them over with pride. Having written is so much better than writing, lol.
Your new teapot is fucking adorable.
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WELL I’M GLAD SOMEONE DOES.
Seriously, we all need to be rewarding ourselves more, for it’ll likely be a long time before anyone else does it for us given how long it takes to launch a successful writing career. I hope you get yourself something awesome for having finished your first draft. I’m now pondering what big, splashy thing I can get for when I finish my second draft.
“I don’t like to write but I love having written” is one of my favourite quotes as well, if for not better reason than it answers yet another quote I quite enjoy that I find to be all too true:
The teapot is super cute, isn’t it. As I mentioned below, it’s totally different than my usual aesthetic and I initially had a different one picked out. But once I saw it, I just had to have it.
Girl, I am maybe 80% through the second draft and it is WORK. I don’t think I’ll reward myself for this draft, but I tell you I’m going BIG with that first draft reward – when I eventually get it.
I can’t wait to see what big splashy thing you get yourself as a second draft reward.
What a great Roald Dahl quote, I’ve never heard that one before. I can relate to that one too, I honestly worry I’ll never write another series after this one. All my future SFF ideas are for stand alone. *nervous laughter*
You’ve got me thinking you’re gonna buy some fancy convertible or something. I have a mental image of you cruising by with dark shades, boss hair, and nail polish that matches the car, while on the radio we hear, “They see me rollin’, they hatin’.”
All this to say, being a writer and all, I have a GREAT imagination.
(Unless you actually ARE going to get a convertible, in which case, pics are a must!)
My WIP has been with me for so long now in one form or another (almost 12 years), I worry I’ll never be able to come up with something completely new and different. But of course I will; it just might take some time. I’m sure you’ll write another series as well, for stories often expand in the telling.
Lol more like a new laptop, that’s about as fancy as it’s getting. Though, I don’t NEED a new laptop, mine is old but it’s working just fine so basically I’m waiting for it to die then I’ll be all ‘HERE IS MY NEW LAPTOP REWARD’ – ages after the first draft was done.
I think the nice thing about having a story stay with you for so long is you know it so well. Omg, I’ve only known my world and characters for two years! For you, your world and the people in it, you must know every tiny little detail.
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Glad to see that you treated yourself. Celebrating personal achievements is a huge struggle for me, so I can identify with your thought processes as well. Trying to get better at it 🙂
Hoping to reconnect with you and everyone else soon…
I think another reason many of us struggle with this is because we were raised to not sing our own praises (i.e. to not “brag”), which is essentially celebrating an achievement equates to. But I think it’s important for one’s person’s self-esteem and personal agency to learn to recognize his/her own assets rather than waiting for the mantle of accomplishment to be bestowed by someone else. It’s something I’m trying to get better at as well.
I hope to see you again soon!
Ah, but must that recognition of the self involve always outward celebration? Or is it sufficient to know that you have done a good thing? How much does ritual matter?
I think some form of outward celebration, however small and unnoticeable by others, is an important way to ensure we actually do acknowledge our accomplishments, at least while we’re still learning how to practice recognition. For although we know on an intellectual level that we should be telling ourselves we’ve done a good thing, in the moment, we more often end up minimizing the accomplishment and telling ourselves “It was nothing.”