Joel Canfield commented that he’d like more information about the Reward Yourself box on the Get Around Writer’s Block flowchart.
The funny thing is that when I ask writers about 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 majority of the time when writing is less than blissful? If you wait for a guarantee that today’s writing will be intrinsically rewarding, you aren’t going to write very often. Not writing regularly makes it significantly less likely you’ll ever get to the flow.
Rewarding yourself for writing, on the other hand, will make you keep coming back for more.
How Rewards Work
When you get a reward, your brain releases acetylocholine, which aids attention and memory, 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 intrinsically rewarding, that is, doing the behavior releases dopamine, which makes us want to continue doing what we’re doing. Sometimes losing yourself in your writing process gives you all the dopamine you want.
When writing isn’t self-rewarding however, we can, and should, reward ourselves for showing up. When you need put in extra effort to show up, that’s when you most need and deserve a reward.
In Part 2 of this series on rewarding yourself, you’ll see the epitome of self-rewarding behavior and how that applies to your writing.