Tricks and treats for writing

Reading time: Just over 3 minutes

Do you ever give yourself treats for writing? You should. Take five minutes right now and develop a reward strategy you can employ to bolster your spirits…

As any six-year-old will tell you, Halloween is not just a holiday for ghosts and goblins. It celebrates the inner candy monster in all of us. Still, when I want to reward myself for writing, I know there are some tricks to it. Here’s what I’ve learned:

First, know that rewarding yourself for writing is not silly or childlike. Instead, it’s a useful acknowledgment that you’ve done some hard work and achieved a goal. To my mind, the bigger problem is that most writers don’t reward themselves nearly enough. Of course, I’m not saying writing should entitle you to a new car or the down-payment for a condo. But smaller, more modest rewards will help keep you happy with the work involved in writing. Have you ever had a boss who refused to praise you for anything you did, no matter how difficult? Don’t be that boss to yourself! Instead, be the generous, exuberant, praiseful boss we’d all secretly like to have. Remember, you have the power to do this for yourself.

Second, give some careful thought to the kinds of rewards you’d like to give yourself. I suggest you begin by creating various categories or type of rewards:

  • Large for a big job such as a book, thesis or major report
  • Medium-sized for a project that takes a good chunk of time or is something you hate doing
  • Small for day-to-day accomplishments or challenges

You might question the wisdom of rewarding yourself so often but my operating principle is: Don’t scrimp! Here are some suggestions for specific rewards you might consider:

Large treats for large projects 

These are the most expensive treats but they shouldn’t occur regularly. If you keep them to no more than once every year or so, they won’t break your bank account.

  • A trip or brief holiday. This trip doesn’t have to be to somewhere exotic. Even a weekend away at a nearby cottage might be enough to help you feel suitably acknowledged. Bonus: It will recharge your batteries as well.
  • A piece of new technology. If you want or need a new laptop or cellphone, tying it to completion of a big project might be enough to keep you motivated when you’re in the hard-slogging stage of the final editing.
  • A more expensive-than-usual piece of clothing. Do you want a new suit or blouse/shirt? Or perhaps you love shoes. I’m not a clothes horse myself but I love buying new glasses. If this is your reward for a particularly big project, splash out a bit and get yourself something you wouldn’t otherwise allow.

Medium-sized treats for medium-sized (or loathed) projects

This is perhaps the hardest category to define. After all, what’s a “medium-sized” writing job and what makes a treat medium-sized? In terms of the work, I’d say this project should take you more than a day and less than a month to complete. It should require some significant planning and effort OR it should be something that you truly loathe doing. (I always give myself a medium-sized reward for getting my financial books to my book-keeper, my most hated task.)

The rewards should cost somewhere between $20 and $100 and should have some element of “fun” or entertainment associated with them. Here are some suggestions:

  • Tickets to a concert, play, art gallery or museum (and the time to attend)
  • A hard copy of a book you’ve wanted to read for a long time (and the time to read)
  • Some useful doodad associated with a hobby of yours

Small treats for day-to-day work 

If writing is just plain hard for you, then reward yourself after each time you write. (You may need to do this for only a month or so. After that, you can drop back to rewarding yourself once a day and then once a week.) Your first instinct may be to make a small treat something sugary like a donut, cookie or soda. This is actually a bad idea for a couple of reasons. First, it’s hard on your teeth and your waistline. But more importantly, it will reduce your energy, for writing and other tasks. After eating such treats our blood sugar surges and then falls, making us feel exhausted. As well, sugar disrupts the brain’s plasticity — the creation of fresh pathways between brain cells that occurs when we learn or experience something new. Treats like that do you no favours. Here are some alternative, low-cost ideas:

  • go to the library to get a book
  • give yourself time to do 15 minutes of free writing in the morning
  • meet a friend for a specialty coffee or tea
  • spend 15 minutes on Facebook or twitter (time yourself!)
  • watch a TV or Netflix “guilty pleasure”
  • go for a walk
  • buy a magazine
  • get tickets to a movie

One surprising note about treats

Not all treats look like treats. It’s highly possible that you enjoy doing something that another person would consider torture. Me? I love cooking so the chance to cook is often a treat for me, although many other people consider it painful. I hate riding a bicycle but my husband finds it one of the great pleasures of his life. We are all different and unconventional treats are exactly like us: idiosyncratic and unique. If something feels like a treat to you, it is. Do it and enjoy it.

Just enjoy the treat after you’ve done your writing.


My video podcast last week described strategies to make editing easier. See it (with a transcript) here and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.  If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


How do you reward yourself? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by midnight tonight (Oct. 31/17), will be put in a draw for a copy of On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.


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