Sunday, November 27, 2011


There are so many high profile debates waging right now in the world of writers. Panster or plotter? Harry or Bella or Katniss? Self-pub or traditional? Amazon as evil or Amazon as savior?

But lately I've noticed another trend, mostly on twitter. Maybe it's due to the number of people actively writing during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), or maybe it's because in the dark and cold days of winter we're all looking for that a little help with our motivation. I'm talking about the Carrot or Stick debate.

Can you be encouraged by the promise of a reward, or do you have to be threatened with punishment in order to act? For example:

Carrots - Rewards

  • A cookie for a hundred words
  • Fifteen minutes on twitter for a thousand
  • A look at Allison Pang's Midnight Man Candy for a chapter. 

And no, that's not why all my chapters are now forty-two words long. Sheesh, what do you take me for?

Sticks - Punishments

  • No lunch until you finish the chapter
  • No tumblr until you revise ten pages
  • No showering until you finish this draft (this is really punishment for the people around you, so I suggest you avoid it unless you 1. hate the people around you or 2. need to convince them unequivocally to stop distracting you)

I tend toward a hybrid system like I do with my plotting (I'm a culottser - it's like pants but smaller), mostly because I have impulse control issues. I'll decide on my reward (say, a cookie), then sit and stare at the screen, maybe run a spell check and spin in my chair. I'll eat the cookie. Then I'll have guilt, and complete whatever task I had originally set for myself, except the reward is already long gone. It's like crossing a finish line to find the crowd's packed up and gone home.

My punishment system doesn't work very well either. I'll tell myself that, if I don't finish a specific scene, I'll have to get on the treadmill. Please understand, I hate to exercise. But, I won't finish the scene. So I'll drag myself to the treadmill, intending to work through the scene in my head so that I'll be able to fly directly from the torture device to the computer and rattle it off.

Of course, in order to stay on the treadmill, I have to lose myself in daydreams so elaborate that I forget what I'm doing. Mostly they consist of the same material as my dreams: corporate espionage, cracking animal fighting rings in the mid-west, being really good at karaoke, being a nanny for Jackie Chan's kids in a world where every day is like a Jackie Chain movie (lot of axe gangs in my dreamworld).

And then, when I finish, I'll be no closer to the solution for me scene.

What works for you? How do you motivate yourself? What's the biggest carrot you've ever promised yourself?


  1. Haven't tried carrots. Nor much in the way of sticks. However, I have refused to get make a much-needed trip to the bathroom until I finish a scene. That's more about not breaking the flow (so to speak), but it can be a very effective stick...

  2. My husband is in charge of my carrots and sticks. Finish a book? He takes me out to a fancy restaurant. Spend the day goofing off on the internet? I have to clean his truck. It works disgustingly well.

  3. I'm a big fan of positive reinforcement, but at the same time, the threat of losing something or having to do a detested task also works. I haven't really found one or the other that gives me consistent results. Maybe I need to make a deal with Diane's husband ; )

  4. I can imagine (and cringe at the thought of) how effective that is, Marie!

    I'd so very much rather go to dinner than clean anything, Diane. That's a good system, plus you have someone to encourage you. I hope. Unless he really likes his truck clean.

    I swing back and forth, too, Cathy. I may have carrot/stick ADD. What worked yesterday or last week likely won't work today, if I even remember it.

  5. I prefer the carrot myself, but sometimes the stick method has to be used. My rewards generally relate to twitter/AW time or chocolate of some sort. The write or die app works pretty well when I need the stick. Keep writing or it yells at you. :(

  6. I kind of make promises to myself but then I'm very forgiving! Somehow it all works out eventually and I do get the writing done!

  7. None of it works on me :| if I really want something, it's hard to deny myself :| so, "you can have a cookie if you finish the chapter" means that I'm going to eat that cookie whether or not I finish. On the flip side, "no cookies until you finish, "means I'm still going to eat the cookie.

  8. Neither one, although I guess I probably lean more towards reward... "you can read this once you finish that..."

    Love the culottser comment, LOL! I guess that makes me a caprister, then...I'm panster 3 quarters of the way, then plot out the last bit. :D

  9. Write or Die actually kind of scares me. You're a better man than I to use it, Tiffany. :)

    I'm with you, Jessica. That cookie is mine no matter what. However, I'd like to also get a few nice words in. (prays to cookie gods to grant wish)

    Caprister! Love it, Jodie!

  10. oh my gawd.. Midnight man Candy... I've never had the urge to masturbate to man photos before..... and I just admitted that publicly. Lord. What have you done to me. You should be more careful of what you link people to, Jacques!

  11. "Harry or Bella or Katniss?"

    Dude, Team Neville all the way.

    I prefer carrots to sticks, but sometimes I'm a guilter: "You know, self, I really SHOULD finish this sentence/chapter/story/franchise. It'd be a shame if I didn't, wouldn't it?"

    Sadly, I'm also a "lazier" at time. "Gee, I really should finish this word/sentence/10-part-movie-deal, but there's a Muppet marathon on!"

  12. ROFL Oh, Bettie, you slay me. I...didn't expect that. So, are you saying you found your carrot? ;)

    Cobra, in my mind "lazier" is pronounced la-zee-eh. Which, of course, sounds awesome. Clearly that's why it's so appealing.