Friday, April 29, 2011

Ticky Boxes for Motivation

When I was a wee child of 4, I didn't like to brush my teeth. Or have my hair brushed. Or any number of other chores and hygiene habits that you'd want a 4 year old to adopt. So my mother created a grid with the items running down the left side and the dates across the top. Every time I completed a chore to my mother's satisfaction she'd place a gold star in the appropriate box. If I got enough gold stars in a week, I got a treat at the end of the week. Usually a small box of Lemonheads or Rootbeer Barrels from the food truck (I lived in a tool & dye shop for a year or so when I was a child... but that's another story). Oh, how I wanted those gold stars!

Apparently, I still do. I am currently reading James Scott Bell's excellent Plot & Structure  and when I came to the part where he suggests setting a word count quota and mentions that he tracks his on a spreadsheet, I knew I'd want to do it on graph paper instead, with ticky boxes that I get to X out as I progress. For those of you not up on the web-lingo:

Tick box. —n. (on a form, questionnaire, or test) a square in which one places a tick to show agreement with the accompanying statement 

A grown-up equivalent of my treasured gold stars!

Now, I'll be honest, when I first saw people on Twitter using the #amwriting hashtag and talking about their word count for the day I rolled my eyes a bit. It reminded me of NaNoWriMo, I guess, and that struck me as amateurish. I thought, "Just write until it's done! Don't hold yourself to some arbitrary number!" Please forgive me, dear readers, I was horribly wrong.

What I didn't realize is that the combination of word quota and ticky boxes would have two effects on my writing. The first one was obvious: having ticky boxes to check off would push me beyond the point where I thought I was done for the day. It was like a personal trainer for writing. But the second one took me by surprise: it curbed my tendency to go back and edit a page right after I'd written it. Oh, I know there are sentences that are too wordy, or awkward, but there they stand, waiting for my red pen. No more taking two steps forward and one step back. All my writing is marching forward.

To find my personal quota of 2,200 words/day, I wrote non-stop for 30 minutes. I took no breaks to brew a fresh cup of coffee, or research some bit of trivia or even glance at my beloved Twitter feed. I took that number and multiplied it by 6, thinking I would like to write for 3 hours each day. I figured with all the interruptions put back into my day, this was a reasonable number to start with. My first day I didn't hit that number, but the drive to keep writing took my manuscript to new places. I'm excited about my new writing motivation system.  I think I'll go buy myself a box of Lemonheads.

But here's a question: do I only count fiction writing, or can I count this blog entry? Hmm, I don't know.


  1. LOL - I'm afraid I'd only count the actual WIP, not the blog. And I totally think you deserve lemonheads for that. Goals do help I think. I need one right now..

  2. I ended up tracking blog writing separately. Sometimes writing here gets me all fired up to write my WIP, so I wanted it to count for something too.