J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Fiction Writing Update, Thoughts on Motivation and Incentive

First-generation self-driving truck

Two new fiction sales to announce:

My story “The Equationist” will be published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, either in the Jan/Feb issue or possibly the Mar/Apr issue. Publishing in this particular magazine has been a goal for a long time, mostly because I enjoy reading it so much, but also because the editor, C.C. Finlay, has always been generous with feedback, which is invaluable.

Getting in F&SF wasn’t easy … Finlay rejected nineteen stories before he accepted one.

And just last week I received an acceptance email from The Intergalactic Medicine Show. They’ll be publishing my heist/intelligent truck/cryptocurrency story “Money in the Tortoise” in February.

So that makes five stories sold at professional rates, which is two more than I needed to become a SFWA Active member (I joined in July, seven months later than I predicted).

Delaaaaaaaaaaayed Gratification

I’m learning that writing is similar to producing music. Any effort you put in will be rewarded no sooner than six months later, with 1-2 years later being the average, and 5-10 years later being not unusual. The protagonist of “Money In the Tortoise” first made an appearance in a story I wrote called “Working for the Living” (still unpublished) which I started in July 2015.

Which means that I can’t rely on writing rewards (getting published, getting paid, etc.) as incentives. Instead, I reward myself (with frivolous purchases, large swaths of guilt-free entertainment time, desserts, etc.) for work milestones that are well within my control (meeting quotas, finishing drafts, etc.).

And the rewards DO help give me a little push here and there. But they wouldn’t work if I didn’t essentially enjoy writing. Writing compelling fiction is mentally strenuous work (especially working on revisions), but when the words are flowing, that’s some brain nectar. Emotionally, it’s similar to weight lifting. It’s hard to initially pick up that cold iron off the floor, but when you’re warmed up and doing reps, gritting your teeth and clenching your butt cheeks, straining against gravity, it actually feels good. At least if you’re into that sort of thing.

Make It Easier

What the behavioral psychology research shows (at least according to this recent episode of Freakonomics) is that incentives don’t work very well. What works, in terms of encouraging constructive/productive behaviors, is making what people already want to do easier to do. Removing obstacles.

Here’s my current (always evolving) make it easier list for writing:

  • block out a couple hours in the morning when writing is my only responsibility
  • keep my quotas low so they don’t feel overwhelming
  • think about what I’m going to write as much as possible before sitting down to do it
  • get feedback from trusted readers (so I’m not revising in the dark)
  • don’t beat myself up if progress is slow or if I miss a day or two, just keep going (but don’t take long breaks)
  • read great fiction for easy inspiration

I hope this post helps nudge you in the right direction, toward whatever you’re trying to accomplish or become. What makes it easier for you?

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4 Comments

  1. Andrew Rix

    Thank you for the great blog and the tips “making it easier”. At 57 I am retiring this year from a government career in order to finish a PhD. I look forward to having additional time to devote to musical composition again and maybe try my hand at a novella. Anyway, just wanted to say I regularly look for to reading about your life’s journey

  2. http://www.russianaccelerator.com/

    Hi JD,

    Just finished your story THE BEEF over at Strange Horizons. Awesome. Tight, engaging, suspenseful and–assuming you were never actual a cattle herder–very well researched.

    Also, re: getting into F/SF…I just had my sixth story rejected by Charlie (and yes, his feedback is great, and encouraging). I was just about to feel depressed until you mentioned how long you’ve been trying. Congrats on that.

    Finally, thanks so much for this blog!

    Cheers from Ukraine,

    Mark

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