We've just watched the final, 126th episode of sitcom Parks and Recreation - our lockdown treat of the summer. Anyone familiar with the show will be aware of the 'Treat Yo' Self" meme. Two of the characters, Tom and Donna, reward themselves for sticking with their office jobs by going on indulgent annual treat days fuelled by designer shopping, fine dining, spa treatments, and yet more shopping.
Our thinking on how you should treat your writing self has evolved. At one point, we reckoned that writing rewards were an essential way to keep you motivated, but over time our position has become more nuanced. It's just not that cut and dry.
While external rewards like Tom and Donna's luxury binge-outs or more modest ones like a latte at the end of a writing session motivate many, internal rewards hit the spot for others. Showing up, knowing you've done a good job or feeling proud you've hit a milestone is reward enough.
There's no right way or wrong way to treat yo' self - just do so in a way that works for you.
As much as we love hosting our 7-Day Writing Sprints we're taking a break in November to focus on re-writing The Book that is taking us far too long to write. Oh the sweet, sweet irony...
October's sprint is open for you to enrol now and starts on Monday the 4th, so if you'd like to pop on whatever the writing equivalent of running trainers would be and join us we'd love to have you along.
"A brilliant idea to stimulate productivity" - Heather Moon
"I liked it so much that I'm recommending it to my colleagues" - US professor
"This sprint has ignited my passion for writing again" - Tim Dann
"I attribute my productivity to starting every month with a sprint" - Emerly Gueron
"Incredibly helpful" - Geraldine Jeffers
"Hard to imagine a more effective, free and fun way to start making writing central to my job" - Anonymous
✍️ Try this: Design your rewards system
Some of us are extrinsically motivated while others are motivated intrinsically. Many are somewhere in the middle.
Here's how to make the most of your motivation-mojo as you design a rewards system.
Extrinsically motivated? Treat yourself for the effort you put in, not just the quantity of words you churn out or the length of time you write for. When you're choosing your reward, ensure it fits the task - going too big can be counter-productive. Brainstorm different ways; mix it up by randomly picking a treat. If you're struggling to think of a suitable reward, think about what you do when you procrastinate (hello Instagram) and use that as a post-writing perk.
Intrinsically motivated?If simply feeling pleased with your progress is what motivates you, use that knowledge to your advantage. The important thing is to notice that feeling by really paying attention to how you feel when you finish. Enjoy that moment of satisfaction before rushing off to the next thing. Perhaps write it down, at the very least get the pleasure of ticking off a to-do, or marking it on a calendar or tracker.
Remember to make the goals that you set yourself ones that you can achieve. They need to be challenging enough so you feel proud when you've met them but not so challenging that you never reach them. Small wins soon build up.
"I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention—invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble. That is the big secret that has brought us down the ages hundreds of thousands of years, from chipping flints to switching on the washing-up machine.”
– Agatha Christie
📚 What we're reading:
How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens
When it comes to book recommendations I’m blinded by recency bias – but I promise that this book has transformed how I think about writing. Perhaps more than any other.
Ahrens argues that the process of writing is vastly misunderstood. “Studies on highly successful people have proven again and again that success is not the result of strong willpower and the ability to overcome resistance, but rather the result of a smart working environments that avoid resistance in the first place.”
I can’t agree more. However, his solution is not to manage procrastination, distraction or productivity, but to focus on the first stage of writing – note taking. Ahren’s has written the master guide to zettelkasten aka the slip box technique. However, while the sub-title suggests a simple technique do not be taken in! There’s serious work involved to re-engineer how you write in order to reap the benefits.
Whether you go full method, or just enjoy his writing and research, this book will make a difference to how you approach writing.
#1. The gift of Gifs: You might have noticed that we're suckers for a nice Gif here at Prolifiko Towers so we love the idea of this new animated book from search engine Giphy. Who knew that Gifs could work offline?
#2. The "P" word: The pandemic has given 'productivity' a bad rep due to unhelpful social media types guilting us all for not optimising ourselves to the max. However, in this article, Cal Newport gives an even-handed opinion on the pros and cons of productivity culture.
#3. Creative explosion: Creative 'hot streaks' are normally proceeded by lots of wide experimentation but then, followed by increased specialisation once the streak has occurred. Read about this fascinating new research in The Guardian.
#4. Ritually speaking: Edith Sitwell's was lying in an open coffin, Maya Angelou's was working in 'tiny mean' hotel rooms while Saul Bellow's was push ups. This is a fab article from LitHub on one of our obsessions: writing rituals.
#5. Memo to the editor: Want to know your nut grafs from your galley proofs? Learn the lingo of editing and publishing with this guide. Great if you're a first timer working with an editor or an seasoned pro in need of a refresher.
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🤷 Reading this for the first time?
Breakthroughs & Blocks is an email newsletter from writing productivity coaches Bec Evans and Chris Smith, co-founders of Prolifiko.