Before I became a writer, I had a number of other jobs. Some were pretty good, others really weren’t. Obviously, none of them were my passion, but the ones that were especially bad were so because they were the kind that stole pieces of you, every day, until you were little more than a hunched over, dead-eyed employee, who was just waiting for enough PTO hours to take a mental health day.
Some jobs are just tough and that’s okay, they need to be done, and often those are the jobs that pay pretty well because of how hard they are on you, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. But what makes those jobs bearable or unbearable is the work environment. At my worst job (and best paying), I had a manager look at me and say, “No one should need to hear ‘You’re doing a good job!’ or ‘Nice work today!’ You should just do it because it’s your job.”
I mean. Okay. Sure, they were right, in theory. But does it cost a boss anything to utter those words? No. Would a tiny piece of moral-boosting recognition like that help? Yes. Would it make you not hate your job just a little bit less? Maybe. I mean, at the very least you might think, “Well, the job sucks, but at least the place/people I work for don’t. It could be worse.”
So, now, you’re a writer, or some other kind of artist. You’re your own boss (even if you have another job that’s paying the bills and this is your second job), do you want to be a dick to yourself or think, “Well, this job is hard, but I love it and I love working for myself”?
Yesterday I hit the 100 page mark on the book I’m writing right now. So, today, my husband and I went out for sushi for lunch. It’s a small reward, but a reward nonetheless. I accomplished a milestone and it needed marking. It deserved it.
Of course you need discipline, don’t think you can’t say to yourself, “No, I can’t do the dishes/watch that whole season/go for froyo until I get my word goal for the day.” Or meet some goal. Sometimes I set myself a word goal for the day and I break it up into chunks. So if I want 2,000 words, I’ll write 500 at a time, taking short breaks in between. And sometimes I’ll do a morning session and a night session if I’m struggling or going for a larger goal. Sometimes the words just come and you can get everything out in one non-stop setting, but just because you can’t, or maybe one day is harder than another day, doesn’t mean you’re failing.
Just figure out what works for your brain and motivation as long as you’re still being productive.
Last year, after I finished the final installment of my Post-Apocalyptic trilogy, an especially difficult story to tell, to live with, to think about for as long as I did, I bought myself something pretty and sparkly because after so much grit, I needed pretty and sparkly. I deserved it.
After I published that book, closing that three novel story, my husband took me to the tattoo parlor to get a commemorative tattoo. That story was all about hope in the face of death and pain and suffering, so I got a triskle made out of leaves, representing the course of time and life and rebirth and growth. I needed that. I deserved it.
Big rewards and little rewards.
Don’t just reward yourself for the big things because those always seem so far away. When you’re just starting a project the end can feel impossible, so if you only have your eye on the end with no little milestones to help you on the way, it becomes daunting.
Maybe it’s an adorable little thing that you’ve had your eye on for awhile. Yes, even a little toy that can sit on your desk, so when you’re feeling the slow trickle of words, you can look at it and remember, you’ve accomplished this before, you can do it again.
Did you finish a rough draft? It may not be a finished project, but getting the bones of a book done is huge. Remember those shoes you really wanted? Guess what! They’re on sale now and you deserve them.
Reward yourself. Be a boss you like to work for. Take care of yourself. The next day you come to work, you’ll do it with a smile and you’ll work harder because the next milestone isn’t that far off and when you get to it, you can go to the comic book store and buy a coffee and refill your well to get to the next milestone.
You need it. You deserve it. You’re doing a really great job.