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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.

Rewarding Yourself Part 4

By Rosanne Bane

What’s Your Teeter Look Like?

Create a checklist of the intermediate behaviors that will lead you from where you are to where you want to go. You should phase out rewards for more basic behaviors gradually over the course of weeks, even months. If it seems you are giving yourself far too many rewards for far too long, you’re probably doing it right.

Remember we are rewarding approximate behaviors at this stage, not the final results. It may take months to change your perceptions and relearn that writing is fun and interesting, not scary. The longer you de-motivated yourself with harsh criticism and lack of rewards, the longer it will take to retrain yourself.

After years of training, I now reward Blue for final results. When we’re at trials, I don’t stop in the middle of a course to reward her for doing the teeter-totter or climbing the a-frame. She gets to play with her Frisbee (her favorite reward) after we complete a course. When we’re learning a new maneuver in class, she gets more frequent rewards to keep her engaged while I learn my part. I’m slower on the uptake than she is.

Don't be stingy!

But if I had been stingy with the treats in her early years of training, if I had waited until she did 15 to 20 different obstacles before rewarding her, we’d have given up long ago. If I had expected a puppy to run like a trained, adult dog, we’d never gotten out of puppy class. Start where you are and give yourself what you need to progress.

What’s a Reward?

Rewards are in the eye of the beholder. A reward is what the person (or dog) getting it wants. Blue loves her Frisbee and jerky treats; other dogs we train with love balls, fuzzy toys, cookies, cheese, tugging on a rope, and so on.

Rewards for writers can include:

  • food: a bite of a cookie, a   few M&Ms, a piece of chocolate, a cracker
  • beverages: special coffee or latte, tea, hot cocoa, lemonade
  • money: a quarter for every 5 minutes spent writing, a dollar for every writing session completed
  • free time: for every minute of working on writing, a minute to do something frivolous and enjoyable
  • self-praise and a smile: “Good for me” “Yes!” “Good job” “I’m really improving”
  • praise from others: ask a trusted ally to give you positive feedback and ONLY positive feedback (discerning feedback that will help you revise and improve the writing is valuable, but it is not a reward)
  • physical pleasure: taking a hot bath, getting a pedicure or a massage, going to a movie, even something as simple as stroking the inside of your arm.

Small and Frequent Rewards Work Best

Rewards need to be small so that you can reward yourself often. Some can be rewards you give yourself after writing, but most should be rewards you get while writing. It’s better to give yourself a sip of lemonade for every 5 to 10 minutes of writing than to wait until you’re done writing to enjoy a whole glass. Not only does your brain release the dopamine and acetylcholine every time you give yourself the reward, neurons in the anterior cingulate start to fire in anticipation of a reward. Frequent rewards means you’ll focus better and both your writing process and the writing itself will improve faster.

If you frequently reward yourself with treats you really want in small, but generous portions now, you can gradually give yourself larger, less frequent rewards.

Eventually, you’ll get to the place where writing is its own reward and treats will be a way to celebrate the completion of big projects. But sooner or later, you’ll start a new project or try a new style of writing and you’ll need to go back to rewarding approximate behaviors again.

Don’t be afraid to reward yourself. Rewards are fun, interesting and enjoyable, and contrary to what our Puritan ancestors would say, that doesn’t make them immoral or indecent. It makes them effective.

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2 Comments on “Rewarding Yourself Part 4”

  1. valeriaolivetti November 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Hi, Rosanne!

    I love your posts, they are great not only to encourage us to write everyday, as they help us to do everything else that we find resistance. Thanks a lot!

    P.S.: I’m already rewarding myself. My favorite large rewards are swim at the beach or walk in a beautiful park, the nature itself is a great gift!

    A big hug from Brazil! =D


    • rosannebane November 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

      Thanks Valeria! Kudos on proving to yourself that once you learn to overcome resistance in one area of your life, you’re prepared to do it in other areas, too.
      I agree that time outdoors is a great reward. My favorite is to walk in the woods along the Mississippi River with our dogs.


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