Bribes for the Win
OK, I had all sorts of high-minded, intellectual ideas for posts that I could write this month…but here’s the truth: I’m feeling flattened right now. I’ve got freelance deadlines to meet, a four-year-old’s birthday party to prepare for (wish me luck!), and I’m waiting with bated breath to hear back from critiquers (including my agent) on my new novel. My brain is scattered!
Unfortunately, that doesn’t change how much work I need to do. In this mood, all I want to do is sit back, eat bon-bons (what are they, anyway? I don’t know, but they sound good right now!), and watch endless reruns of Nigella Lawson cooking shows…but every working day, I have targets to meet, whether it’s writing 2500 words for my latest freelance project or writing 1,000 words on a novel of my own.
So how does it happen? I’d like to put on an earnest expression at this point (even, perhaps, a slightly smug one) and intone: “Discipline, my friend. Simple discipline.”
But no. Ahahahaha, no.
Instead, I’ve taken the advice of a very wise friend (and fellow writer). I called Trish almost a year ago, nearly in tears of frustration at my own stupidity. I was working on my very first freelance project, and I was enormously grateful to have won it, but between exhaustion and just being in exactly the wrong mood, I hadn’t been able to force myself to get much done at all in my first writing session.
‘I just don’t get it!’ I wailed at her over Skype. ‘I know how important this is. I know how much work I have to get done! How could I be so stupid? It’s like my creativity – everything I need to be able to write – was just throwing a temper tantrum all morning!’
I waited for wise advice along the lines of Get a grip, woman! Just act like a grown-up! - or in other words, exactly what I’d been telling myself all day.
Instead, she said thoughtfully, ‘Have you tried bribes?’
I blinked. I could feel my tantrum-ing inner writer give a sudden stir of interest. It might not want to write when I was tired… It might not be in the exact right mood to do the writing I wanted it to do that day… but bribes?
‘What kind of bribes?’ I asked slowly.
Well. That afternoon, I took the bus into town. I went to Oxfam and bought four different 100g slabs of Divine fairtrade chocolate, in three different flavours: plain dark, dark chocolate/mint, fruit & nut dark chocolate… When I got home, I counted out the number of squares in each bar, and I worked it out: I could have six small squares (1/4 of a bar) for every 2,000 words I wrote (or revised, in the second-draft stage).
And guess what? The next day, I wrote 2,000 words, without a peep of resistance. And I wrote steadily from then on, rewarding myself for every wordcount.
I’d like to think of myself as a grownup…but the part of me that writes stories is a part that wants to play. It resists like mad when I try to make it work, and when I bombard it with lectures (‘Don’t you realize this is my income we’re dealing with? Stiff upper lip from now on, or else!’) it curls up into the fetal position and refuses to perform.
Bribes, on the other hand, make it uncurl and leap to attention!
It’s been a year, now, since that weepy phone call to Trish. I don’t reward myself with dark chocolate every 2,000 words anymore – but only because I’m varying my bribes, to avoid burn-out on any of them. Today, though, there was a disaster. I had forgotten to set up any bribe! I was flattened with exhaustion, I was uninspired, and I was aiming for 2500 words…but with only half an hour left of my writing session, I was still on only 1500. I felt sluggish and resistant.
It was time for desperate measures. I looked across the room at my husband (who is also a writer, and who was typing madly). ‘Patrick,’ I said. ‘Do you feel like making pie today?’
He looked at me. He understood. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But you only get a slice if you write 2500 words.’
Well. I wrote 2500 words! And the pie was delicious.
Bribery for the win, every time.
(Alas, this isn’t Patrick’s pie. I couldn’t find my camera! This is an image from Wikimedia Commons.)
How about you guys? Do you ever bribe yourself? I’d love to hear what works for you!
PS: And speaking of baked goods, you are all invited to the launch party for my new book, A Reckless Magick! It’ll be part of Bristolcon on Saturday the 20th of October, at the Ramada Hotel in Bristol, from 2pm to 2:30. There will be drinks, nibbles, a jewelry giveaway and yummy baked goods made by my fabulous, bribe-suggesting friend Trish! I would really love to see any of you guys there.