Greetings from behind a cup of coffee. Not just any coffee. Coconut vanilla flavored coffee with a splash of milk and a bit of foam on top. Indulgent, a bit sweet, and rather pretty in the clear glass cafe mug. It’s sitting on the slate coaster between my monitor and me as I write this. There’s a good reason for that.
It’s my writer bribe for today.
I’ve just spent the last hour revising a flash piece whose characters I love. We writers should love our characters, right? Which should motivate us to leap to the keyboard and pick through their laundry and breakfast dishes and unread emails to find the torn sleeve and the half-eaten bran muffin and the message from their college sweetheart they haven’t spoken to in decades that will help us shape the next draft.
Except sometimes it can feel like doing chores. And no one likes doing chores.
So we—and here, by we I mean me—bribe our writers to sit and work.
It’s not the only way I get myself motivated to work. I’ve found the Pomodoro technique helpful. (Fitfully napping babies are, I’ve decided, sweet little Pomodoro timers.) And I certainly don’t use motivational tools every time I write—I don’t find that I need anything besides the allure of exploring new ground for writing first drafts. But I have found a fluffy coffee or some chocolate now and again that I’ll only allow myself to have if I am actively writing to be the enticement to get myself in front of my computer to work.
I’ve always been drawn to E. L. Doctorow’s explanation of novel drafting: “it’s like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” When you’re going through unknown territory, there’s something exciting about seeing the way the trees change as you drive further north, for example, clusters of pines giving way to solitary elms. But when you’re driving through familiar territory, making that fourth or fifth pass through the book, when the characters argue in the back seat the whole way and it’s raining and they’ve closed your exit from the highway and the windshield wipers suddenly start squawking, what then?
You get yourself a coffee for the trip. A fancy one with foam and chocolate. A big one.
As 2015 comes to an end and the new year begins, I’ve been thinking about how my at times indulgent writer bribes fit into my goals for 2016. Much of my to do list involves revision: a YA SF novel that’s been sitting around since I drafted it in 2012 (ack!); a novella that I just finished the first draft of a week ago; several stories and poems that I’ve made one, two, five passes through and that still need considerable work. In other words, I should stock up on the hazelnut coffee and get the big bag of the dark chocolate squares.
Often, I’ll read the acknowledgments sections in books, looking for insights into where and when the book was written and who the author thanks for their support in completing the work. What I’d love to see, maybe just once, is a count of how many lattes or ounces of chocolate or cups of tea the author partook in to see the project through to completion. Really, isn’t this just another measure of how much work it took to get that copy of the book into the readers’ hands?
So, what about you? What are your most effective writer bribes? And when do you need them most?