Such a lofty title, isn’t it? Very, very lofty for a post arguing that the human mind is, in several ways, an easily amused little hamster. Mine is, at least, and I’ll wager that yours is too – in several way – when it comes to motivation.
And before you start to protest in indignation, I know you have all sorts of very high-minded life goals – really, I know. I have them too. We all have a a few, glowing at the horizon, beckoning us ahead… Only, when it comes to the small daily stuff that, with time and patience, will accrue to make that glowing Goal ours, we may need something smaller, something within hand-reach, that will work for the day, and keep us writing instead of going off to brush the cat or watch old British spy shows from the Sixties.
Tactical motivation. Sub-tactical, even. Tiny immediate rewards, if you like.
Just how tiny they can be, is something that was brought to my attention last night. Yesterday was one of those higgledy-piggledy days when one putters about a good deal and achieves little. You know, when small extraneous things keep coming one’s way, and they must be dealt with, and… Yes, I dare say you know. Well, it was one of those days yesterday, and dinnertime came, and I hadn’t accomplished much of what was on my list. I hadn’t revised the last draft of a website text for a client, I hadn’t sent to my publisher the finalised backmatter for A Treasonous Path, and I hadn’t reached my daily quota of words for Book 3. And therefore, at about 10 in the evening, I sat watching the daily list in my diary – and felt a little disheartened at these bare dots…
Let me explain: I make daily to-do lists in my diary (a pretty Paperblanks affair, because I’m fussy like that), where each item has its own little dot. Whenever a task gets accomplished, I add a small green circle around the dot. Small green circles give me a nice sense of achievement; bare dots leave me so uneasy that at times I feel compelled to add a little note about why the dot has remained bare. And last night I had no good reason to note down, except that squandering of time on smaller necessities…
It was past 10 when I announced that, after all, I was going to my study for half an hour, and I’d be back very soon. So I revised the website copy – a small green circle – and then I gave that last polishing to my back-matter – another green circle, and emailed both where they were due. And then there was the daily quota of words, and that last bare dot, and some 800 words still to go…
What do you think I did? I fired up Scrivener, opened the file for the new scene – and, before starting, I set up a target for 800 something words. You know that nifty little Target feature in Scrivener? You can set up goals by word-count or characters for the whole project, for a writing session, for a single file. When you do it for the file, a tiny target and a progress bar will appear under your writing area, and both will change colour as the bar fills up – from red to green, going through all the intermediate hues of orange and yellow. And apart being fascinated by the colour change itself, you wouldn’t believe how much easier it seems to fill up that little bar than to type away with a number in mind. Well, I had known from the start what was going in that particular scene – but still, my little target turned green in no time, and so there!
Pip, who happened to pass by as I blissfully coloured my last small sea-green circle for the day, is the one responsible for the easily-gratified-hamster definition. It is very possible that Pip is right – and yet.
Is it silly? Perhaps. Does it work? For me, yes – at least most of the time.
A friend of mine used to reward himself with a piece of dark chocolate every so many words. I, it seem, don’t even need the chocolate, and small colourful circles are enough to keep me on the straight-ish and reasonably narrow. Perhaps I should have titled this post “Of hamsters and sea-green circles” instead?
And what about you, o Readers? What does it take to bribe your inner hamster into actually doing the daily stuff?