It can be a real drag to be slaving away on a lengthy piece of writing for months or even years. It’s even harder when you’re doing it in relative invisibility. There’s no one around to cheer you on when you get stuck, no one to urge you toward the finish line (unless you have a spouse or best friend living with you). There’s no one to help you celebrate small successes you experience along the way, like hitting the 10,000-word mark on an 80,000-word novel or finishing a chapter. When you’re focused on the next goal, the next chapter, or the next deadline, you might forget to pat yourself on the back for the work you’ve put in.
Experts (both writing and psychology) say it’s important to give ourselves credit throughout a project, not just at the end. Delayed gratification is a no-no. It’s not just to keep you motivated, but to acknowledge the hard work and grief you’ve gone through during the writing process. Since most writers work in isolation, no one else sees how you toil behind the scenes. No one witnesses the blood, sweat and tears you pour into your work to get it published.
By setting up a credit system for reaching certain milestones, you can take time to appreciate the work you’ve done so far. You can feel good about what you’ve accomplished while you’re accomplishing it. No need to wait until the bitter end to pat yourself on the back. Who wants to wait that long before receiving any kind of acknowledgment of your hard work?
Giving yourself credit plays off the concept of “What’s rewarded gets repeated.” When you acknowledge that you wrote 5,000 words in one week, how likely are you to repeat that effort the following week? Of course, you’ll want to keep performing at that high level. As the words pile up on the page, so do your rewards.
The rewards should be small things, like giving yourself a day off from writing or taking a day trip somewhere. They don’t have to cost anything either, like playing with your favorite pet or re-watching a favorite movie. In fact, waiting until the end of the project for a larger, more indulgent reward, something that could be a splurge, like dinner at a hot new restaurant or a massage.
There are a few guidelines for giving yourself credit:
- Refrain from food-related credits, which can sometimes be unhealthy and ruin your diet.
- Keep credits small and budget-friendly. Save the bigger splurge for when you complete your project.
- Consider hobbies and activities that you enjoy that you don’t get to do very often, like dancing or spending an afternoon at the library.
- Don’t put off cashing in your credit. Take it the moment you reach your milestone.
So what types of credit should you give yourself?
- Re-reading a favorite book
- Re-watching a favorite movie
- Going for a hike or walk in nature
- Going for a bike ride
- Going to a matinee movie
- Visiting a museum
- Buying fresh flowers for your work space
- Dancing in your living room
- Taking a day off from writing
- Spending an afternoon at the library, bookstore or coffee shop
- Spending time with your pet
- Spending time with a friend you haven’t seen in a while
Here’s another fun thought, shared by book coach Jessica Conoley. Use fun, colorful stickers to decorate your calendar. Every time you meet a goal, say finishing a chapter, put a sticker in your calendar on the date of completion. Or your goal might be to write 1000 words a day. Every day you reach that goal, put another sticker on the calendar. Over time, you see how many stickers you’ve collected as “credit” for the work you’ve done. You may not see all the words you’ve written toward your finished manuscript, but the stickers in your calendar can show you how far you’ve come.
As writers, we all work hard, often in isolation. Few people see the hard work we put into our craft. Taking time to give ourselves credit isn’t frivolous. It’s a way to acknowledge that our work is worthy of recognition, even if we’re the only ones to see that progress.
So how do you acknowledge your hard work? What special rewards to you give yourself for reaching your milestones in a longer project?