Is it just me, or did summer in the northern hemisphere fly by? One moment, it’s June and I’m posting about my new tattoos, and the next, we’re into September. I planned to be MIA from my website for a couple of months, and I like to think you noticed my absence. No need to correct me if I’m wrong. But now I’m back to tell you what I was up to while I was away: I wrote a book. Is it a rough, chaotic, insensible mess of a book? Yes! It’s only the first draft, but it’s a complete story, from beginning to end. It’s my third novel, and I’m proud of it, plot holes and all.
Today, I want to share how I incentivized myself to knuckle down and write the damn story. It would be lovely if finishing the book was its own incentive, but I’m highly distractible and prone to making reasonable-sounding excuses for avoiding tasks that feel like work. But I’m also highly motivated and love challenges. So, I created some completion challenges to encourage a daily writing habit and keep me moving toward the finish line.
The first step was figuring out my overall word count goal. Young adult novels fall anywhere from 50,000-90,000 words on average, so I picked a comfortable spot in the middle. The final number is bound to shrink and grow during the edit phase, which should land me back close to the 70,000 word mark. That’s ideal for a young adult standalone horror manuscript.
Once I had that set, I chose a timeline. Since I have a life outside of writing, there was absolutely no way I was going to get 70,000 words done in one month, NaNoWriMo-style. That’s 2258 words a day! But I wanted to finish the first draft before the end of summer and preferably before my birthday at the end of August. Two months seemed reasonable. Once I divided that word count over sixty-two days (starting on 30 June), that gave me a daily word count goal—1130—I could live with.
To encourage consistency, I vowed that each day I met the daily word count goal, I would donate one dollar to my local adult literacy organization. Charitable donation is important to me, and I’m prideful about failure, so this incentive worked well…initially. For the first month, I achieved my daily word count on twenty-nine of the thirty-two days. August proved to be more of a challenge. Crippling migraines, lower back pain, and a couple of special events kept me out of the writing chair. I managed only thirteen days before finally finishing the first draft on the 25th. I disappointed myself with the spottiness of August, but life happens. Besides, writing more than 1130 words on forty-two out of sixty-two days is not too shabby!
I then divided my final word count goal into 10,000-word increments. For every 10,000 words I wrote, I earned a prize. I also came up with a bonus incentive any time I reached that ten-grand mark a few days early, based on when I was expected to reach it via my daily word count goal.
Here’s the full incentive list:
– 10k words – An enamel pin (Bonus: two enamel pins)
– 20k words – Pinterest mood board (Bonus: Spotify playlist)
– 30k words – Social media break (Bonus: Make an IG Reel)
– 40k words – Mani/Pedi (Bonus: Eyebrow appointment)
– 50k words – Betta fish tank (Bonus: Upgrade to neon tank)
– 60k words – 2nd Social media break (Bonus: Make 2 IG Reels)
– 70k words – Repaint my office (Bonus: Buy new curtains or art print)
A couple of notes on the above:
– The first 10,000-word goal was the only one for which I didn’t achieve the bonus, so I only got one pin. Bummer.
– I was supposed to be on a strict social media hiatus while writing this book, so those two breaks should have been more impactful. But of course, I cheated on the hiatus. A lot. But taking time to make the IG Reels—which I find genuinely fun—was enough of an incentive to make me hit the bonus dates.
– A friend and fellow author wondered why I made labor (redesigning my office/writing room) an incentive. That’s a good point. It cost me the entire holiday weekend, sore muscles, and climbing atop a tall ladder (I hate heights), to repaint it. NOT FUN! But this goal was about defeating distraction. I considered delaying work on HUNGERS THE FOREST in favor of repainting my office. I needed to be inspired by my space in order to create, I told myself. Remember what I said about being highly distractable? Yeah.
The office redesign was just an excuse to delay writing. I called myself on my own BS and made it an incentive instead: I couldn’t paint my walls pink UNTIL I finished the book. And you know what? It worked! Here’s the Instagram Reel I made chronicling my writing challenge:
Oh, and I’ll have a post and a few Reels about my office redesign up on Instagram next week—be sure to check it out, if you like that sort of thing.
Let me know in the comments what incentive-based challenges you’ve created to get your writing—or whatever work you do—done!