However, the daunting task of getting a book all the way to “done!” is more frightening than a weekend marathon of Wes Craven movies.
Maybe you can relate.
Unfortunately, my fear doesn't motivate me to finish.
In Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, author Jon Acuff speaks about how those of us who are great at starting projects can actually manage to complete what we start. As I listened to the book (yes, listened), one particular point struck me: that we are primarily motivated either by fear or reward. Knowing which category appeals to you, and then figuring a specific incentive within that category, can spur you forward—all the way to the finish line.
Now we might all think that reward sounds much better than fear. But fear is a very useful tool for many. Here are some ways that fear could be a worthwhile motivator for writers.
- You finish writing the chapter before critique group, because you fear the disappointment or judgment of your fellow critique partners.
- You push yourself to meet your novel deadline with your editor, because you fear that poor performance will affect future contract opportunities.
- You finally finish and publish your book, because you fear not having anything to report in your annual What's Up with Us holiday letter.
Fear here doesn't mean you're cowering under your office desk or making the Edvard Munch scream face. Rather, you're motivated to avoid a negative consequence.
I'm sure you can think of times in your life that fear has proved to be a very effective motivator—whether it was studying like crazy for a final exam so you wouldn't fail a class or rehearsing what you'd say before asking someone on a date so you wouldn't come across like an idiot. If the end result was a good one, the fear worked. It did its job in motivating you.
But as I said, while fear motivates me in other areas of life, it doesn't get me to finish novels. If that's you, then maybe you're more inclined toward reward. How does reward work for writers?
- You finish writing the chapter through a series of group writing sprints, where word counts are rewarded with encouragement and congratulations.
- You push yourself to turn in your novel to your editor, and reward yourself with a night out to celebrate meeting your deadline.
- You finally finish and publish your book, and experience the reward of sending your family and friends copies as holiday gifts.
Most of us are probably motivated by a combination of fear and reward.
Once you set up incentives that work for you, you can break those down even further into smaller goals and smaller incentives.
It can be something as small as not allowing yourself to watch a TV show tonight unless and until you finish the chapter (fear). Or keeping candy bars in your desk to enjoy each time you complete writing a scene (reward).
Maybe you're like me and just happen to have a Wonder Woman cape in your closet, and you reward yourself by putting it on after every finished scene.
The point is to think about your personal history of when you've finished tasks. What motivated you to finish? Was it a fear? Was it a reward? Was it a combination? What kind of fear or reward?
And then re-create that approach with your writing.
But since a lot of what I'm talking about here comes from Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, let me add another important point from the book: You won't finish unless there's a fun factor in there somewhere.
Yeah, we're all supposed to say that writing is the fun part. But while writing can certainly be fun (or we wouldn't do it), it can also be grueling.
I don't know why. Perhaps once it's the task you should be doing, it loses a little of its spit-shined gloss.
But I do know that wearing a Wonder Woman cape while writing makes it a little more fun. (Seriously, am I the only one?)
What's your fun factor? It could be connecting with other writers and getting to share your story with them. It could be writing a few random scenes that will never show up in your final book but are a blast to pen. It could be reading your current chapter aloud to yourself in a foreign accent. It could be getting a cover designed before you finish the book, so you can imagine what it will look like when you're done.
Be intentional in contemplating what incentives you can apply that will prod you toward completion and success.
As for me, I just finished this whole post, and I feel a reward coming on. Excuse me while I go locate my Wonder Woman cape.
What motivates you to finish? Fear? Reward? And what's your fun factor?
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Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.