Writing can be a lot of fun. After all, you’re telling a story about a world and characters you created. It’s also a lot of work. You hear rumors about this from other authors, but until you’ve experienced it for yourself, you have no idea just how much.
Both of my novels—Hard Hats and Doormats and The Marrying Type—each took two or three months to write a first draft. It’s worth noting I took an eight-week hiatus halfway through both books, because I tend to binge on everything from writing to relaxing. (I’ve become better at pacing myself lately, but the struggle is real and ongoing.) Eight to twelve weeks to write a first draft doesn’t sound so terrible, right? I’ll admit, I was pretty proud of myself at the time and figured it was only a matter of time before I became the next Nora Roberts.
Then I started editing. Over the next two years, I worked on draft after draft before they were publication ready. Again, I wasn’t working on either project non-stop, which really wasn’t well done on my part, but the stories were always on my mind. That doesn’t sound like much fun, right? It sounds like work, and it was.
I’m not sharing these facts about my past to scare you off of writing. This was my experience, and it’s unique to me. But what isn’t unique to me is that doing what you love—writing—takes work. And while it isn’t always fun, you can make it rewarding.
I work well on rewards-based systems. Granted, I have discovered I am better motivated by little prizes like earning a sticker for every 1,000 words written keeps me going better than promising myself I can have a manicure after reaching 10,000 words.
I haven’t been psychoanalyzed, so I can only speculate on why. I’d guess this is because I am more motivated by seeing that I have made progress than by having a treat. I mean, if I really want to get a manicure, I’ll go get a manicure. Likewise, if I don’t really care about whether or not my nails are done, I have nothing compelling me to do it. The same goes for taking candy breaks or getting treats. It’s far too easy to treat myself and say, “I’ll make up the word count later,” then it is to actually do the writing or editing.
By comparison, my sticker system—one star on a spreadsheet for every 1,000 words—has done wonders for me in the year I have been using it. I’m excited to have a tangible way to mark each milestone, and it’s exciting to watch a blank sheet fill up. I use it for editing too, only I get one star per chapter. Each one reminds me that I am making progress and I am one step closer to completion.
(And sometimes, even my cats get stickers as rewards.)
I also do something really nerdy every couple of months. I send myself on a writing treasure hunt. It basically consists of me taking my laptop and notepad to the coffee shop, cafe, library, and bookstore for writing (and sometimes dining) options. After hitting a certain word count, I get to move on to the next spot. This has mixed results. Mixed in that sometimes I make my word count and I go to each of the locations. And then sometimes I only go to one or two and don’t reach my goal. That said, it’s still a success, because I had fun, and I still came out of it with more accomplished than when I started the day.
And when I finish a project, I always celebrate. Sometimes that means having a champagne toast while staring at my lovely star-covered spreadsheet. Other times it’s going out to dinner. But I figure it’s always worth enjoying.
Stickers might not be your thing. Maybe candy or cake or big prizes turns out to be your key to success. But I highly encourage my fellow writers to do something. Even if you are self-motivated to write, it is a way to celebrate how far you have come and where you are going. And that took work.
About Laura Chapman
Laura Chapman is the author of The Marrying Type, Hard Hats and Doormats and the Autumn and Tuck series, which appear in Merry & Bright and A Kind of Mad Courage. A native Nebraskan, she loves football, Netflix marathons, and her cats, Jane and Bingley. Until she fulfills her dream of landing a British husband or becoming a Disney princess, you can find her in a bar penning her next novel.