When you aren’t rewarding yourself for writing

When it comes to rewarding ourselves for writing, I see many writers being stingy about it.

Please don’t be stingy! 

In my online small group coaching program for writers — the Writer’s Circle — we have a question on our daily progress report that says, “How will you acknowledge or celebrate what you’ve accomplished today?” And every day we fill our answers into this little box:


We do this to bring attention to the importance of the practice of rewarding ourselves for writing.

But what fascinates me is how often we collectively avoid or sidestep this question.

Even I find often myself answering with something that I was already planning to do, which isn’t exactly a true reward. Sure, it’s a nice thing I’m doing for myself at the end of the day, but it isn’t actually tied to the writing. (On the other hand, as a still relatively sleep deprived new mom, when I write “Go to bed” in that little box, I’m usually THRILLED to be making that my reward, and it really does feel like one.) 

But are we doing ourselves any favors by avoiding rewarding ourselves for writing or not creating special rewards just for the writing?

I don’t think so.

Why we might not reward ourselves for writing

Here are some reasons why we might not reward — or want to reward — ourselves for writing.

1. Not rewarding ourselves can be a form of self-punishment. 

Some writers feel that they “don’t deserve” a reward because they haven’t reached their goal for the day, even if they did actually show up and write.

Or sometimes writers are writing but feel they aren’t working on the “right” project, so they punish themselves by not rewarding, acknowledging, or celebrating the writing they did do.

Some writers use the lack of a reward as a way of being hard on themselves.

Here’s why this is a bad idea: Self-punishment (of any kind) sets up a negative association with our writing. When we are constantly hard on ourselves for not writing enough, writing the right thing, or not meeting our (sometimes unrealistic!) goals, we create disincentives associated with our writing. Rewards, on the other hand, create incentives to write. And considering that showing up to write and sticking with it can be a herculean task on many, many days, disincentives are the last things we need.

2. It feels hard to think of something to reward yourself with.

Sometimes it’s just hard to come up with something as a reward, so it’s easy to phone it in by picking something you were already planning to do or giving up.

On the other hand, if that something you were already planning to do is what you would normally be procrastinating with (TV, Facebook, games, etc), that’s not such a bad idea. Sometimes a little delayed gratification IS a great reward. But it’s not a great choice if you aren’t intentional about it, meaning that you decide BEFORE you write that your treat at the end will be a little Facebook surfing time.

What worries me about not coming up with rewards: I suspect that an inability to come up with an idea for a reward is tied to that feeling that we don’t deserve one. I also think it devalues the act of writing. While some might say that we shouldn’t need rewards for doing what we were put here to do, I disagree. Our big dreams — as much as we WANT them — are often shunted to the side for other less meaningful pastimes and obligations. So when we actually do the work of overcoming the massive amounts of inertia and resistance to actually write, it’s worth rewarding. 

3. Rewarding feels like another thing to do.

When we are busy — in writing and in life — creating space for a reward for ourselves can feel like just one more thing on a very long list of To Do’s. Who wants to do that? It might even feel like an interruption of one’s flow in the day or in life to stop and acknowledge or celebrate what we’ve accomplished. 

I know writers who are so frantic to keep up with even their own self-imposed deadlines that they cannot imagine stopping to celebrate what they’ve done.

Here’s why we might want to rethink this: Positive experiences create positive associations with writing, much as rewards can be incentives. Plus, I don’t know about you, but there is always more work to do, and a dearth of pleasurable moments. Why not make the effort to create more moments of delight in our lives, and why not associate them with our writing?

4. It feels like we never accomplish enough to celebrate or reward anything.

Writers always have more writing to do. The next project, the next deadline, the next ambition. When you have an endless laundry list of writing and tasks and To Do’s, it feels like you have never ever done enough. And why would you reward yourself for being so behind? 

But here’s the hidden cost of never being satisfied with what you done: Writing without rewards will suck the life and joy out of your writing eventually. You might be able to keep pushing through for months, years even. But your creative outputs deserve to be balanced with delicious inputs. Your hard work deserves acknowledgement. Don’t let a day go by without celebrating the fact that you are making your dream happen, word by word. (And definitely do NOT miss celebrating the big milestones either. Finish a draft? Give yourself something really special, even if it’s just a day off to enjoy the sunshine.)

5. Writing feels like its own reward.

Often writers feel like writing is its own reward. And sometimes it really is. Sometimes at the end of a long day, writing is what we do to relax and reward ourselves for working our day jobs or taking care of the kids. So it can feel silly or extraneous to reward yourself for writing when it already feels like a treat. 

Here’s the issue I see with this: When we write as the reward, it can make it harder to do the writing on days when we “don’t feel like it” or we are “too tired”. Having a separate reward makes it easier to show up and do the writing no matter what, because we don’t want to tie our writing to a being “in the right mood”.

Change your anti-reward habit with these strategies

Here are some thoughts about how you can change up your pattern with rewards.

First, have a chat with yourself about what you are actually accomplishing and whether it is worth of a reward. If you stop to think about it, aren’t you overcoming resistance every day to write? Wading through distractions, procrastination, fears, and doubts just to show up to the page? Isn’t that worthy of acknowledgment?

Then, be intentional with your writing rewards. You might tie them directly to your writing, like giving yourself treats that are writing related (a writing book, a special pen, a class), or looking for ways you can be self-nourishing and creative-well filling. One of my Writer’s Circle coaches, Terri Fedonczak, choses rewards that are related to one of the five senses, like having tea under a cozy blanket, sitting outside near the water or in the sunshine, taking a few minutes to snuggle her dogs, or burning incense in her writing corner.

If you want to be an über-rewarder, pre-select your reward before you even begin writing for the day, or plan the reward the evening before along with your writing for the next day. Sometimes our yesterday selves are kinder and wiser than our today selves. You can pre-select rewards for your daily writing and rewards for hitting your writing milestones, like your meeting your weekly goals and completing major drafts. You might even want to make a list of your favorite treats NOW and have it to pick from when you sit down to write. 

(Check out this article for more on rewards, and also a list of reward ideas.)

Last, make an effort to reward yourself as quickly as possible when you complete your writing, even within a few minutes of finishing. As my favorite writer, Joss Whedon, says, “I have a reward system. I am the monkey with the pellet and it’s so bad that I write almost everything in restaurants or cafés [so] that when I have an idea, I go and get chocolate.” The interviewer from the article says, “He doesn’t wait to flesh out the idea and then reward himself, he rewards himself simply for having the idea.” How’s THAT for an über-rewarder?

Let’s have some fun

Tell us your favorite ways to reward yourself for writing in the comments. It’d be great to get a list of ideas going we can share here on the website.  



You may also be interested in:

Ramp up your writing speed

Ramp up your writing speed

Nicola PittamNote from Jenna: This guest post is from one of my screenwriting pals and a talented journalist, Nicola Pittam. I’ve come to know Nicola through my screenwriting training programs and love her clever wit and ability to churn out the writing at a moment’s notice (I’m pretty sure she wrote this post on the fly in under 20 minutes!).

Nicola’s piece addresses not only HOW to write, but how to write more quickly. Take a look and see what you might glean from her experience for yourself. (And enjoy her British spelling!)

Ramp up your writing speed

by Nicola Pittam

When asked:  “How do you write?” I invariably answer:  “One word at a time.”  (Stephen King)

That’s one of my favourite quotes about writing, from one of my favourite authors. You’d be surprised how many times a writer gets asked that same question over and over again. And while Mr. King’s answer might simply seem like common sense, it’s also completely true!

There is only one way to write – one word at a time, one word after another.

But sometimes it’s difficult to get that first word – or even 1000th word – down on the page, especially if you are on a deadline.

I’ve been a journalist for nearly 25 years and so I’m used to deadlines. In fact, I’ve become so used to it, I work better and quicker if I have a deadline looming in front of me.

But just like everyone else I procrastinate when it’s time to write. I’ll watch bad day time TV, make endless cups of tea, call family and friends to chat – anything but sit down in front of the computer. But if there’s a deadline and I know I have to deliver by a certain time, my brain kicks in and off I go.

I was working for Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper in the UK at the age of 21, so I had to learn fast. If a breaking news story came into the newsroom at 6pm, it had to be written, subbed and in the paper by 6.30pm as the presses started to roll at 7pm for the next day’s paper. And if you couldn’t do that, you were out the door. So I learnt very early on to write fast and be precise. To this day I can write a breaking news story in 15 minutes, or churn out a 4,000 word magazine feature in under two hours.

For me it’s all about discipline and I was lucky enough to learn that on a job that I loved but that required it.

But what do you do when you don’t have that discipline? Or you’re not used to writing that fast but have all these ideas that want to come tumbling out?

I admit there are times I still have problems writing a script because at the end of the day I’m the only one accountable for it – there’s no editor waiting on the end of the phone to yell at me (or even fire me), if it’s not delivered on time.

So here are some ways I get around this:

  • Set deadlines for yourself. They don’t have to big deadlines. Even little deadlines can help. Instead of thinking: “I HAVE to write 20 pages today”, set yourself smaller goals. You’re more likely to hit a deadline of 5 pages a day than 20. Then if you do more than 5 you’ll feel even more pleased with yourself.
  • Try to have daily deadlines. This way you get into a flow. If you’re writing daily, it will become second nature, you’ll get into a rhythm and your writing will get quicker. A great screenwriting teacher, Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU, recently had a class doing assignments which were not something we’d generally do every day. But he told us: “This is your new normal.” And that’s what you’ve got to learn to do – make writing faster your new normal!
  • Do as much pre-planning as possible before you even start writing. This will make it much easier (and quicker) to write if you have an idea what you are going to write. A lot of procrastination comes from not knowing what direction your story or script is going in. If you take the time to plot out your characters and story, the writing itself will flow much quicker.
  • Reward yourself for meeting your deadlines. Give yourself a little treat if you meet your own deadline. It can be anything from taking an hour out of writing to watch your favourite show, buying a new book or indulging in a piece of pie or cake. My favourite is to get a neck and shoulder massage at the end of each week for spending so many hours sitting at a computer!

But just remember, hitting any deadline is a major accomplishment. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes you to get there. We’d all love to write a script a week but don’t beat yourself up when that doesn’t happen. All that matters is that you do as the great Stephen King does, and that’s to write one word a time. And if you do that, before long you’ll have a completed script or novel that you’ll be proud of.


Nicola Pittam is an award winning author and former Fleet Street journalist. She has won awards for her news and features that have appeared in UK newspaper, The Sun, where she worked for 4 years, as well as several women’s real life magazines. She is the co-author of Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman – a biography of the Oscar winning actor, which won four awards in 2013 including “Best Biography” at the Indie Book Awards and the National Indie Excellence Awards. She has been living and working in Los Angeles for the past 17 years as a journalist but now spends most of her time writing screenplays as well as working on a new non-fiction book and documentary, a YA trilogy and a TV pilot called House of the Rising Sun.

You can check out the Bale bio at www.bale-biography.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChristianBaleBook.

Thanks for reading!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.