Last week on Facebook, a friend of mine posted that she’d “resorted to using a star chart” in her toddler’s potty training. “Never say never in parenting!” she wrote. So, of course, I had to chime in in the comments that she knows someone well past potty-training age who’s still using a star chart: Me.
My stars, of course, are for writing, not for using the toilet. (Though anyone who’s familiar with Anne Lamott’s concept of “sh*tty first drafts” could argue that they’re essentially the same process.)
Then, on Monday, Laurie Thompson’s post about deadlines kicked off a discussion in the comments that once again led to admissions of star chart use on my part. I even went into more detail about my methods this time:
2 hours of drafting time = 1 gold star.
30 gold stars = 1 trip to the movies.
No drafting = no gold stars = blank stretches on the star calendar = SHAME.
As Laurie said in the comments, “It seems kind of silly that we need these simple tricks to make us do something we already love doing,” and I agree. I wish the spirit constantly moved me to write more. I wish I was the kind of person who woke up every morning full of confidence and motivation, unable imagine life without my daily five-hour stint at ye olde writing desk. And it’s not like the magic never happens, like I’m never excited to sit down and work. I used to be a write-when-the-spirit-moves-me sort of writer…it just took me more than five years to draft a single book that way. So now I use the shiny stickers to help speed the process up a bit.
Another advantage to having a star chart (or, better yet, star calendar) is that you can look back at your writing patterns over time. This year, I got off to a pretty good start in January, but then my second editorial letter came, so I had to put my WIP aside to work on more Gladys edits. February only has a couple of gold stars, since most of that month was devoted to edits and travel, but things pick back up again in March, and April is my starriest month so far. If I can keep it up through May, I may even have a (stinky, poopy, cr*ptastic) first draft on my hands.
So, they may be silly, but I’m sticking with my stars. In fact, I’m just a couple away from my first reward, a night at the movies! Of course, being so devoted to my work, I have no idea what’s even in theaters right now. Any recommendations, guys?
Tara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.
Find her online at taradairman.com.