The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Incentives that aren't incentives

I’m always trying to find good incentives to motivate me to work more. “Paying the bills” only goes so far. Recently I thought I had one, but I realize now it wouldn’t work.

I believe I’ve mentioned my niece one or two (thousand) times in this blog. Her father is Greek (meaning here-on-a-green-card Greek) and has to go back home for several months this summer to keep his sailing credentials up to date (for some reason there aren’t a lot of sailing jobs in Phoenix). He wants my sister and my niece to go out and visit him for a couple of weeks in September. My sister is a little concerned about taking a special needs child on an international trip all by herself so she’d like me to come. She’s reluctantly offered to pay my way, but she can’t really afford it.

Aha! What a great work incentive. I set some goal about how much money I have to make between now and September and if I make it, I go to Greece. Yay!

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this just doesn’t work.

Let’s say I set myself goal of $10,000 (which would be too low a goal, but is a nice round number for this example). What if I make only $9,999? Do I really cancel a trip to Greece, hosted by a local so I get to see the “real” Greece rather than the tourist stuff, because of one dollar? OK, so let’s say one dollar is close enough. What about two dollars? Ten dollars? A thousand dollars?

This may very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He’s close to retirement and she can’t afford to run out there every year he goes back, so this might never come up again.

If I missed my goal, I know damn well I’d go anyhow. And I know I know that, so the incentive is gone. That’s the problem with being a cynical smart-ass like me. A lot of motivational stuff doesn’t work because I see through the psychology. I see the man behind the curtain and realize it’s all just a trick.

I read a lot of the advice on freelance success, but much of what I read just makes me roll my eyes. Obviously these ideas work because they are written by people who’ve used them, but I know they wouldn’t work for me. I keep searching because every now and then I come across something that strikes a chord.

(And I don’t know why I used so many parenthetical phrases today.)


  • At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Yvonne Russell said…

    You make a very good point about the "one size fits all" approach.

    I guess in the end, all anyone can share is their own experience with freelance writing. Yours is very interesting and insightful.

    All the best


  • At 10:25 AM, Blogger Andy said…

    Thanks, Yvonne. I've always been one to rebel against one size fits all. People should try these techniques, but shouldn't decide they will never succeed just because these methods don't work for them.


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