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.  



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Reward yourself for writing

In my Writer’s Circle, one of the things members commonly bring up as a question is how to reward themselves for meeting their writing goals.

We have a list of questions we answer on our site, once we’ve completed our writing for the day (or not, as the case may be). This is one of the stickiest questions for many of us:

  • How will you acknowledge or celebrate what you’ve accomplished today?

The question tends to trigger a lot of resistance and debate and discussion. Sometimes writers even avoid answering it or fulfilling it. I know it’s a hard one for me to remember too!

But here’s the thing, it’s incredibly important to both celebrate and acknowledge the work you do as a writer both on an ongoing daily basis and at the end of a significant project phase, like finishing a first draft or a rewrite. 

Here’s why:

  1. You’ve fought resistance to show up, put your butt in your seat, and do the writing. As small as that may seem from the outside, you know deep down that every day it is an accomplishment. We’re talking about a daily battle that you’re winning.
  2. By creating a positive association with your writing, you are more likely to show up and do it again the next day. Bottom line? It reinforces your writing habit.
  3. Writing is a long term endeavor. It’s all too easy to walk around feeling like you’ve never done enough when the draft isn’t finished. Stop that right now. Instead, celebrate what you have done. It’ll make it easier to keep going all the way through to the end.
  4. Too many writers significantly undervalue themselves and their writing, especially if the day’s writing session was particularly hard. Stop that too. Take the time to recognize the value and importance of what you’re doing. It’s important to you, right? For most of us, writing is a true calling. If that isn’t important to feed, honor, and sustain, I don’t know what is.

Ideas for rewards

Here are some super simple ideas to get you started with rewards, celebrations, and acknowledgments:

  • Do a happy dance.
  • Dance to music for a minute.
  • Shout, “I did it!”
  • Throw your fists up in the air and say, “YES!”
  • Say, “I declare myself satisfied!”
  • Hug yourself.
  • Pat yourself on the back.
  • Play an inspiring song.
  • Make yourself a cup of tea.
  • Take a moment to stretch.
  • Stand in the sunshine for a moment, look at the sky and appreciate the world and the gift of writing.
  • Do the things you’d normally be doing while procrastinating about your writing (like checking in on Facebook or Twitter, or playing games on your iPad).
  • Tell your writing community about your progress and be proud of yourself (the Writer’s Circle is a great place to do this).

You might also like this slideshow from B.J. Fogg on “Ways To Celebrate Tiny Successes”. (The slideshow has the line, “Hey now, you’re a rock star,” as one idea for a celebration. Love it! That’s from “All Star” by Smashmouth)

Two tips for getting the most out of rewards

  • Tip #1: Fogg recommends celebrating within a second of completing the task as being critical for reinforcing small successes. So even if you give yourself a bigger reward at the end of the day’s work, do mini-celebrations each time you hit a milestone (e.g. a page done, a hour of writing, 15 minutes of writing, whatever you’re aiming for). I have a sound effect for a cheering crowd set up on my iPhone that goes off whenever I finish an hour-long writing sprint. It always reminds me to notice and acknowledge what I’ve accomplished.
  • Tip #2: Gina Hiatt, the founder of the system my Writer’s Circle runs on, also points out the importance of not “pre-celebrating”. Pre-celebrating means doing something fun — celebrating or rewarding yourself — BEFORE you do the writing. That doesn’t work, because it only perpetuates procrastination AND triggers a guilty conscience. The whole idea here is to eliminate your guilt and anxiety around your writing.

But what about the major milestones?

What happens when you finish your draft, put the final polish on your rewrite, turn in your script to a contest, or your box of books arrives in the mail — in other words, hit a major writing milestone?

Please — and you may take this as a request from your writing coach if you like — REALLY celebrate!

Do something like this:

  • Take yourself out to a fantastic lunch or dinner.
  • Go to the spa for the day.
  • Take a day off and watch movies and eat your favorite foods.
  • Open a bottle of something yummy.
  • Tell your friends.
  • Have a party!

This is a MAJOR accomplishment and deserves to be celebrated.

Particularly if you’re someone who tends to undervalue and underrate and always have more to do and feel like you have to move on to the next thing, STOP, and congratulate yourself on finishing.

Then dive back in the next day. :)

Your turn

What do you do to reward yourself for writing? Tell us in the comments.



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