The Little Things: How Small Rewards Lead to Big Projects That Get Done

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Writing a novel takes a ridiculously long time. So do many other things that are incredibly worthwhile like raising children, practicing for a concert, or knitting an afghan. (I hope to finish this for my son before he gets too cool for it!)

Q's blanket

To keep myself going, I create small rewards for myself as I go along.

My rational grown up serious brain shakes her finger at me and says fussy things like:

“You shouldn’t need a reward! The work is its own reward! What are you? Some kind of kid who needs a treat for every little thing?”

To which my creative kiddo self says (in a tiny little voice as she kicks the gravel): “Yes?”

More and more of the time I block out the fussy voice and give myself treats.

A few weeks back, I finished a rough draft after about 11 months of work. The book’s not done of course. There will be revising and revising and then more revising. But I resisted the urge to push on and made a treat for myself.

I went to the Seymour Botanical Conservatory on my lunch break that very day. Here’s my Facebook post from that day:

I was typing along this morning when I realized I had finished the first draft of my middle grade novel. To celebrate, I went to Seymour Conservatory today and shelled out the 3 bucks to go inside. The lady there gave me a Ponderosa lemon tree leaf and an Allspice tree leaf. They smell delicious! Plus, I saw another work in progress. I’m trying guess what the chainsaw artist will create. Something with a dolphin…

I also bought glass earrings from the Hilltop Artists inside the conservatory that day. Every time I put them on, I think about finishing my novel and about supporting some other artist out there as a celebration.

For my next bigger reward I’ll buy a print from Summer Kozisek when I finish my focused reading program.

Something about giving money to other artists feels like a call to my own muse.

Other ideas I’ve seen for tiny rewards include keeping calendars or making a small celebration at dinner. I especially like Steven Pressfield’s idea of writing on a paper wall calendar and using check marks and the end of each day. It’s so visual and kinesthetic that it really appeals to me.

I’m scanning the shelves for new wall calendars since it’s almost 2015 and my current cupcake calendar is almost done.

Rewards, after all, need to come daily, not only at the end of big projects.

My treats are marvelous. Sometimes they are even the whole point. Not only does it keep that little gravel kicking kid happy, but the finger shaking lady gets happier, too, when she realizes more gets done in the end.

Besides. What fun is it to be creative without joy? The careless driver at the intersection in front of my work might hit me tomorrow before the novel gets done, the kids are raised or the afghan is knit. I’d like to tell St. Hildegard that I loved the gift of life while I was here.