Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bribery & manipulation: the keys to writing success

I am not a very focused writer.

If there’s ever a contest for the world’s most easily distracted author, I will be invited to…hey look – a butterfly.

To counter this, I rely upon the fact that I’m very good at manipulating myself.

(Stop snickering, that’s not what I meant. OK, it was what I meant, but it’s not the point of this blog).

Viewing a novel as one huge block with the ending as the sole light at the end of the tunnel is a surefire way to get discouraged and spend the day shopping for python-pattered clogs on Amazon.

But if I set smaller goals for myself with rewards for achieving them, I find I’m a whole lot more motivated.

Just yesterday, I spotted a site called Romance Yardsale. It was created by authors Bria Quinlan and M.G. Buehrlen to raise funds so they can attend the national convention of Romance Writers of America.

The object of my desire from romanceyardsale
As I skimmed the list of items, my eyes landed on one of the T-shirts.

“Want!” screamed Flaky Writer Tawna.

“You have to work for it,” replied obnoxiously smug Responsible Writer Tawna.

So I decided that if I finished chapter three in LET IT BREATHE by the end of the day, I would reward myself with that shirt.

This may not sound like much, considering I was already in the middle of the third chapter, but the first 50 pages of any novel are always the toughest for me. I’ve been noodling these early scenes for weeks now, and was quickly nearing the point of deleting everything and writing about turtles.

Finishing the first three chapters is a big deal for me, and I deserve to be rewarded for it.

And so I wrote. And edited. And you may be surprised to hear it, didn’t have a single glass of wine until I achieved my goal (which one could argue is counter-productive when writing a book set in the wine industry, but I wanted that shirt, dammit, and nothing was going to distract me).

I placed my order at 9:52 p.m. last night, and now I will spend the next week neurotically clicking “track package” until my shirt arrives.

Or at least I’ll allow myself to do that as a reward for finishing a paragraph or a page or whatever I set as my next little goal.

That’s the key, really – they don’t always have to be big goals or big rewards. Sometimes even tiny things can motivate me.

“I want to floss my teeth!” Flaky Writer Tawna will say in the middle of a bit of dialogue isn’t flowing the way I want it to.

“Finish this scene, and you can have your minty-fresh Glide,” Responsible Writer Tawna will counter.

I can likewise be motivated by snacks, bathroom breaks, and of course, wine.

What are your tricks for motivating yourself as a writer? Do you set big goals or small ones? Do you bribe yourself with rewards?

Please share in the comments trail. I have to go click “track package” now.

33 comments :

KAK said...

Oh, I'm all about the "schedule." It includes time for the attention-span-of-a-gnat writer to succumb to gazing fondly at crazy shoes for sale on eBay. Deadlines are usually enforced by some 3rd party viewing my written genius. 'Cause, really, fear of public humiliation does a lot for motivation. ~urg~

Shannon O'Donnell said...

LOL! I am not know for my power of focus either. I'll jump on any excuse to avoid writing when it's not going well. I haven't figured out a good prevention technique yet! :-)

LR said...

Oh! Best t-shirt ever!!

Congrats on the 50 pages (though a novel about turtles would be nice too, love turtles...)

Deborah said...

Writing isn't my problem; it's the time to write. I hesitate to get started when I know in an hour I have to shower and leave for work (like today); or I have to stop writing and drive one of four children somewhere. Or start supper. Or pee. Because, once I start, I DO NOT want to stop. Like a lion gorging on fresh meat, I write until I can't move. Literally. And Heaven help the person/thing that interrupts me. So if I know I don't have a large window of time, I dawdle, read blogs, unload the dishwasher, fold laundry, touch my toes, because these things take minutes and if I have to quit early, I do not walk away gnashing my teeth like I do when forced to save and close Word in the middle of a scene. I need bribery to go to work, like today. I promised myself a shower. But honestly, if I have to choose between hot water and soap, and the sloppy fields of WW1 where my current WIP is set, I'd rather wallow in the mud. But I really like that T-Shirt.

Maybe I'll buy it as my reward for going to work today. :)

Steve Ulfelder said...

For me, it's a pint of Ben & Jerry's every 10,000 words (that's about 2 weeks' output for me). I've tried tying the pint to a stick attached to my head, donkey-and-carrot style, but the ice cream just melts all over the keyboard.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Tawna, were you writing this post to me? If yes, then thank you! If it was a moment of unwitting cosmic connection...well, thank you just the same!

I'm dragging myself through chapter four. It's pure UCK! It probably needs a total rewrite. But if I can just get through it, move on to coming chapters, I'll know how to fix it later. Little goals, little rewards...that's what I have to focus on.

Thank you, sweets! Love the tee shirt, and the idea of python-patterned clogs...

Candyland said...

I'm not focused either. I usually pull up forty internet tabs while working on ms, fend off child, stare...what were we talking about?

Claire Dawn said...

My most trusty weapon:

"You can't pee til you finish the chapter."

You know that chapter gets finished in a hurry. Whoever said "time waits for no man" never met Pee!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

LOL. I WANT too! What a great shirt. I also love the one that says, "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel."

I bribe myself with wine, chocolate, and yummy flavored coffee. Oh and I buy myself books I want as rewards.

danicaavet said...

I'm so not focused. If what I'm writing sucks (which happens frequently), I think "You know, I think I should write tomorrow's blog" or "Oh I wonder what books came out this week?". Then I get nothing done.

I'm a spur of the moment writer, though I am working to change that. If I'm feeling it, I write. I try to write everyday, but it's counterproductive since I rewrite it the following day because it sucked that much.

*sigh* And now I have to look at this website you mentioned instead of looking at my crapping WIP

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I am very fond of Smarties. I choose the best color, and I am allowed to eat it after 150 words. Then I am magically smarter and more organized in my thinking.

I am pretty convinced of this.

Karla Nellenbach said...

hahaha! yes, please write about turtles. You can call it LET THE GALLAPAGOS BREATHE...i can just see it now. wine drinking, fake cars sex having turtles...eek! the images! my eyes! my eyes!

Shannon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shannon said...

Sorry, spilled a glass of wine while making my last comment.

Yep, I do it, too. Usually it's about wine and upgrading ("If you finish this chapter, you can open the Mondavi...but if you finish the NEXT chapter, you can have the David Bruce").

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Oh, Claire - me too! I have my daily required wordcount, which is broken into various chunks according to this arcane formula I have that has to do with my rate of progress. (Yes, I'm that nutty.) I have to finish to the next chunk before I can get up to pee, get more tea, get a snack, anything. Works, too.

Tawna Fenske said...

KAK, I agree, having a critique partner breathing down your neck and demanding a draft to read is a great motivator. Just got an email like that from one of mine, as a matter of fact! :)

Shannon, clearly lack of focus is a common writer issue. Have you tried bribes & manipulation?

LR, just for you, I'll contact my agent immediately and propose a book about turtles. (I think I just heard her scream all the way from New York).

Deborah, I have exactly the same issue with not wanting to get started when I know I have only a small block of time. I try to force myself to use those little blocks to edit what I wrote the day before, and inevitably it will lead to some much-needed sentence tweaking and maybe an added line of dialogue.

Steve, excellent idea about the ice cream on a stick. Maybe you could use a funnel so the drippings end up in your mouth instead of on the keyboard?

Nicole, glad the post was timely for you! I have a lust for Dansko clogs, and once rewarded myself with a leopard patterned pair in silver & black patent leather. The python ones may have to be my next end-of-novel reward.

Bria, there were a million things on that list I fell in love with, so picking another won't be any trouble at all. Then again, maybe I want the same shirt in green (since I ordered the black one to start).

Candyland, I'm horrible at this! I never have fewer than 3 internet tabs open at once, plus Tweetdeck, plus my manuscript. No wonder I can't focus.

Claire Dawn, I use the pee one all the time! Amazing how well that works, eh?

Karen Amanda, aren't some of those shirts amazing? The wine one is perfect for me since I'm working on a wine-themed book right now, but there were five or six others I would love to own as well!

danicaavet, you know what? Your suggestion about writing the next day's blog when the manuscript isn't going well is FABULOUS! I've done this once or twice, and it's a good way to feel like I've accomplished something and to buy myself a little extra time the next morning when I'd normally write a blog entry.

Elizabeth, the Smarties idea is great, too! Sheesh, I should be making a list here.

Karla, I could totally write about turtles having sex in cars! (I think I just heard my agent scream again).

Shannon, I just laughed out loud. I've had EXACTLY the same conversations with myself. If I write well, my reward is opening a good bottle of wine. Crappy writing=crappier wine. It's an excellent system.

Jeffe, I certainly see the correlation between word count and peeing. Not sure non-writers would get it, but it makes perfect sense to me!

Wow, these comments are great! Love all the new motivational ideas I'm getting. Keep 'em coming, guys!

Tawna

Michelle Wolfson said...

Stop checking the comments and keep writing!!!

Penelope said...

Ooh, great post!

I'm much better with little goals too. Chocolate and red wine are good motivators. :) I love Shannon's idea!

Congrats on getting to chapter 3!

Linda G. said...

Other than chocolate?

I don't let myself read my favorite blogs until I'm done with my writing. Which explains why it took me so long to get here today. :)

Great post!

Tawna Fenske said...

Michelle, uh-oh. Didn't think you actually read the comments :) Just for you, I spent the last four hours in almost completely uninterrupted writing seclusion!

Penelope, I like the mix of big and little goals. That gives me more room to negotiate with myself.

Linda G, congrats on the writing time today! Did Michelle scold you, too? :)

Tawna

Amie Boudreau said...

i am not the most motivated person either. In fact I am so lax lately it makes me ill.

I blame mine on my workspace. I am crammed in a small office that was my dad's before he died in a house that is my mother's now.. and is packed wall to wall with her clutter, though she's never here... and writing on my deceased dad's pc, which I don't like because my own laptop hard drive took a nosedive... conveniently the night my brother in law decided to 'update' it..

so being in clutter makes for little to no motivation to write...

that's my story and I'm sticking to it.. lol :)

Cynthia Reese said...

Michelle, I'm telling her to get me the chapters NOW, but will she listen to her CP? Nooooo, she's too busy tracking the shirt. She will need to drink if I have to go all the way to Oregon and read those chapters off her computer.

Because it's not like she doesn't guilt ME about chapters when the shoe's on the other foot -- and I know Tawna. She'll find some dirt cheap airline ticket and call me from Atlanta's airport, saying, "I told you I was going to read those chapters tonight!"

Elisabeth Black said...

This is so funny. I want to buy stuff.

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

Oh I am going to have to try this. I'm SO far behind on my page count on Script Frenzy and I NEED to work on it tomorrow. So maybe I'll come up with some nice little rewards for if I finish so many pages.

and turtles!

You make me laugh so much!

Tawna Fenske said...

Amie, I can relate to not wanting to write in a cluttered space. Then again, I probably wouldn't get much done if it weren't for the clutter!

Cynthia, I sent it, I SENT IT, sheesh! Between you and Michelle, I'm taking a beating today :)
Seriously though, let me know if you don't get it. Looking forward to your fabulous critique, as always.

Elizabeth, be sure to let us know what "stuff" you end up buying so we can all use it to motivate ourselves!

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. (as always, that's a mouthful!), be sure to let us know how the turtles work out as a reward!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

haha! I think you're the only one that calls me the whole name :)

See, I started out as SonshineMusic, when I was paranoid and wished to stay anonymous and hide. Then by the time I decided to come out as me, I had a pretty large group of friends that knew me as Sonshine or SM. So I put both. And I really like Sonshine, so I don't really want to drop it. hmmm... Anyhoo - this book was just to say that you can call me Sonshine or Rebecca or SMIERT (as one of my blogger friends tagged me) or you can type the whole long thing out if that's what floats your boat :D

Christi Goddard said...

I guilt myself into it sometimes.

"Christi, if you don't write during these two hours, you're just going to be a pissy bitch later and take it out on everyone else."

Which I actually enjoy, so the guilt trip rarely works.

India Drummond said...

I love that shirt. I don't even drink and I love that shirt!

Your self-discipline is commendable!

Xuxana said...

The fund raiser items are hilarious because they are so true. I'm going to stick them on my blog.

Talli Roland said...

I am so going to buy that shirt!

I motivate myself with food and wine. If I can get through the next hour, I can have a chocolate break. The one after that, a glass of wine. And so on! It's a wonder I don't weigh 500 lbs!

Theresa Milstein said...

I love that your bribed yourself. Recently, I wrote a post about my four hours of "writing" time. If you read it (without getting distracted), you'll see that I don't always stay focused:
http://theresamilstein.blogspot.com/2010/03/we-too-must-endure-and-persevere-in.html

I'd love to get the shirt, but how will I explain it to my children?

Tahereh said...

loool great tshirt!

i motivate myself with the thought of hanging out with my characters. i love spending time in their world.

does that make me sound crazy?

haha

great post!!

Tawna Fenske said...

Sonshine, duly noted, that's much easier!

Christi, I can see the appeal of being a pissy bitch, so you're right -- not always the best motivator!

India, did you check out some of their other products? They have a lot of other writer items for those who aren't as motivated by wine as I am.

Xuxana, be sure to let them know you're linking on your blog. They're holding a contest and the winner gets the item of his/her choosing.

Talli, which one are you ordering? They have tons of styles and colors to pick from. I'm a big fan of the plain black, but I liked the others as well.

Theresa, I will head over and check out your blog right now. Thanks for the tip!

Tahereh, of course you're crazy. You wouldn't be a writer if you weren't!

Tawna