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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Reward Yourself Part 1

By Rosanne Bane

Is Writing Its Own Reward?

When I blogged about using chocolate to bribe ourselves to write (When All Else Fails, Use Chocolate), the post got three times more visits than any other post. But when I ask writers about consistently rewarding themselves for their writing efforts, many react as if I’ve suggested they do something immoral or indecent.

“Writing is its own reward!” they say, either indignant or scandalized.

Of course, when you’re in the flow, when the words flow effortlessly, you know exactly what to write and you lose track of time, writing is its own reward.

But what about the times when you’re nowhere near the flow state, when just showing up at your desk is a challenge and the words defy you, the minutes drag, and writing alternates between frustration and agony?           

What about the majority of the time when writing is somewhere between bliss and agony?

If you wait for a guaranteed flow experience, you aren’t going to write very often. If you force yourself to write without giving yourself some sort of reward, you won’t write long. And not writing regularly makes it significantly less likely you’ll ever get to the flow.

As shocking as it is to some writers, we need to reward ourselves.

How Rewards Work

When you get a reward, your brain releases acetylocholine and dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. These two neurotransmitters help your brain focus attention and consolidate what you just learned. Rewards activate the anterior cingulate, the part of your prefrontal cortex that tells you “This is important. Pay attention to this.”

 In other words, because rewards feel good, we want to repeat the behavior that generated the reward, and because rewards sharpen our attention and memory, they improve our ability to do that.

Some behaviors are self-rewarding, that is, doing the behavior releases dopamine, which makes us want to continue doing what we’re doing. When writing isn’t self-rewarding, we can, and should, reward ourselves for showing up anyway. 

In Part 2 of this series on Rewarding Yourself, we take a look at the epitome of self-rewarding behavior and see how that applies to writers.



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  1. E.P.’s Recipe for Reducing Resistance « The Bane of Your Resistance - February 23, 2011

    […] frequent rewards make the whole experience interesting, engaging and keep Eileen coming back day after day. In […]


  2. 10 Reasons to Show Up for Your Writing Today « The Bane of Your Resistance - February 5, 2010

    […] Or some other reward. If you don’t have a reward planned and ready, please go read or re-read my posts on the importance of rewarding yourself. Then use your writing time today to list small rewards (for […]


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