For the past 26 years, I have had curly-coated retrievers; we train them for field, show and therapy dog work. It’s a great breed, very active, ‘wickedly smart’ (as the breed description says), and gorgeous. Our current male, Ozzy, is a handful and I’ve been reading up on training methods and attending handling classes to improve our performances. One of the things that I read made a big impression on me. It wasn’t that I hadn’t read it before, but I suddenly realized that not only did I need to reward the dog with positive words and the occasional pat or treat, but I also needed to reward myself for my writing accomplishments.
With dogs, we reward in large part with verbal praise and lots of pats. As the pup learns the ropes, the praise comes less often, but it should never stop entirely. Some people do a lot of their training with food or with handheld clickers but I’ve never really mastered either of those skills. Yes, Ozzy gets a cookie now and then (I make my own) but generally he gets lots of praise. It helps that he’s very driven – he will retrieve all day long simply because he loves it and in that way, the activity is its own reward. But when he comes when called, heels nicely and sits, we need to reinforce that behavior with words: “Good boy! Good dog!” and maybe an ear scratch.
So what about writers? Well, we’re working hard, honing our craft, researching, drafting, editing, revising and slaving away to improve our work. But when was the last time you rewarded yourself? Now I’m not saying we need to have three layer cakes with fresh whipped cream, chocolate drizzles and strawberries on top, but next time you’re at the store, grab a box of your favorite tea and reward yourself with a cup for your next milestone. Or if you’ve finally edited the rest of that chapter or ground through the plot inconsistencies, reward yourself with a manicure.
I decided to take it one step further: I cut a bunch of slips of paper (fortune cookie fortune size) and wrote out a rewards on each one. They include the ones listed above as well as simple things like putting a fresh cut flower on my desk, a new scented candle, or massaging my feet with lotion (remarkably relaxing). Some of the rewards are larger, but you should scale this to your own budget and waistline. I stayed away from the food rewards just because I’m trying to be good in that regard. Feel free to tailor your rewards program to fit you, your writing needs, and your lifestyle. But I urge you to implement some sort of rewards because we all deserve it and because the more you reward a behavior, the more you’ll see it. It not only works with kids and puppies, it works with writers too!