No Fault in These Stars

April stars bring...May book deals?

April stars bring…May book deals?

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.

Motivation accomplished!

Want to make your own? All you need is one free calendar...

Want to make your own? All you need is one free calendar…

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.

Foil stars! Or "Etoiles en papier d'aluminum," if you're fancy.

…and some foil stars! Or “Etoiles en papier d’aluminum,” if you’re fancy.

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 DairmanTara 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


Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Writing, Writing and Life

28 responses to “No Fault in These Stars

  1. Pingback: Starry…Blog Post | tara dairman

  2. I love this! I totally need a star chart (though mine would probably just be a bunch of random stickers from Charlotte’s collection). And the “going to the movies” idea is fabulous. I haven’t been to a movie in a looooooong time, and this would be a fun/productive way toward making that happen 🙂 Most of my self-motivation comes in the form of promising myself Starbucks. Usually I only go if I’ve gotten a gift card from someone. Those seasonal drinks lure me in like crazy, I love the passionfruit iced tea, and don’t even get me started on pumpkin scones. I know they’re shipped in and not baked fresh but I LOVE THEM.


    • Yeah, isn’t the movies a perfect reward? It’s a fun indulgence that I rarely shell out for otherwise. Though I hear you on the Starbucks seasonal drinks, too–I got a gift card last fall just in time for pumpkin spice drink season, and whoa, now I’m obsessed!


  3. Yeah, I need a star chart, too!

    The Great Gatsby is in theatres soon! And Monsters University!


    • This is probably surprising for someone who has a character named Gatsby in her own book, but I am not a fan of The Great Gatsby at all! You’ll have to let me know how that one is. Monsters University, though–is that a sequel to Monsters Inc.?? Yes, sign me up!


  4. I totally need a start chart! For many of us who are still writing in the trenches without a contract, it is easy to explain away writing time. “I really should work on X which might make me some money. I really need to do Y for my kiddos. I can’t get into my room because the laundry monster has expanded into the hallway….” Thanks for this idea!


    • Yes, yes, yes! Everything else is given priority. Writing doesn’t seem to be justifiable because there’s no return on your huge investment. My writing group on Friday mornings is often the only time I manage to carve out in a week because it’s mandatory.


    • It’s definitely easy to explain away writing time, even when you do have a contract. Good luck starting your star chart, Anna! Now, I’m off to tackle a laundry monster of my own…


  5. I also have a star chart of sorts. A writer friend and I send daily emails to each other. We have to get an hour of writing time in daily or else we face shame. Being held accountable to someone else really works!


  6. Tara, I love this star chart idea. I was always a little jealous of my kid’s stars and their treasure chest. As I begin drafting a new novel I’ve got just one more diversion before I really get started . . . I need to run out and get a calendar and some stars. Thanks for sharing your method, here’s to motivation and movies!


  7. “Iron Man 3”?

    And in the “never say never in parenting” category, how ’bout using M&Ms in potty training? Beats star stickers like a boss.


  8. Tara, I am totally going to do this. Starting today. This is awesome. I think mine needs to be word count rather than time spent, since I’m very good at staring at a computer screen without putting words onto it . . . petting the cat . . . getting a snack . . .

    It will be good to use up old stickers, too, since my piano students have been on me for a while to update (what? NOW you hate snowmen, just because it’s 70 degrees??).


    • You can send me your snowman stickers, Adi…because it’s snowing here right now. That’s right, on May 1. #Colorado #oy

      Anyway, glad to inspire you, and hope that your new sticker chart brings you productivity and happiness! 🙂


  9. Just to be clear, I wasn’t saying that using a star chart was silly! I think it’s a great idea, and I’m so visual that I think it may be the perfect trick for me to get to work even when the muse isn’t in residence (or when she’s in residence, just not on the project that I actually need to finish!). I just love the irony that writers love to write (and we really do!), but we still need to come up with things like these to motivate us (and we do!). 😉 Thanks for sharing, Tara!


  10. Oh, and great title! 🙂


  11. I used Snoopy stickers for a while. Now I use a sand timer–30 minutes at a time of work. I don’t leave the work unless the house catches fire. And even then…
    Love the post!! Thanks, Tara!


  12. I’d make a comment, but I need to sit down at ye olde writing desk and earn myself a star!


  13. I love the star chart! I will make one for myself! Already have the stickers! Now I need a calendar!


  14. Love this!! And I agree. It stinks that we have to employ motivational tricks to get us to do what we already love. But I’m right there with you.


  15. Pingback: It takes a village … to write a book | EMU's Debuts

  16. Pingback: Time to take the next step | EMU's Debuts

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