alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions

How Do You Motivate Yourself?


I love office supplies: pens, paper, stationery, markers, stickers, index cards, post-its, notebooks, notepads, glue sticks, you name it. I have no idea what to do with half of this stuff, but put me in front of the office aisle in Target or, so help me, The Container Store and I am ready to sort, stack, bin, and pin everything in sight.

I like to think I don’t have a lot of consumer weaknesses. I don’t go in for tech toys, I get my books at the library, I’m old and I work at home so fashion isn’t much of an issue anymore. I used to have a thing for crockery and cooking tools, but they’re expensive and they take up so much space that I’m usually able to keep it under control. But office supplies–they’re little, and (relatively) cheap, and come in bright colors. The heart pounds, the knees weaken, the vision blurs, and the next thing I know my basket is full of sticky flags and paperclips in the shape of motor scooters, and I don’t even know what I *thought* I was going to do with the roll of neon pink masking tape dotted with wiener dogs.

My excuse? A few years back, Tony Ardizzone gave a talk about the writing life at the IU Writers Conference (a great conference, BTW w/ fantastic instructors). He advised aspiring and practicing writers to give themselves small rewards that are writing-related. He suggested things like a fancy notebook or a coffee cup that you really like. I think my colored folders and gel pens qualify. I may not actually use them while writing, but they’ll be on my desk, where I write, and they are associated with the space.

What about you? Do you reward yourself for practicing Butt in Chair? For number of words written? For stories submitted*? NaNoWriMo is coming up fast, and this year I am taking the plunge, so motivation is front and center in my mind. Part of me is pretty confident that I can write a novel. Certainly a zero draft. Another part of me thinks the first part is an overconfident fool. I think I’m going to need all the help I can get to meet my target word counts. And that just might mean periodic rewards in the shape of a chicken-shaped tape dispenser and skyscraper erasers:

Skyscraper erasers from

*As of tomorrow, I’m going to have 6 stories out on submission. This is a record for me, and I’m feeling really good about it.

Author: Alisa Alering

I write stories. I read stories.

13 thoughts on “How Do You Motivate Yourself?

  1. Good luck with NaNoWriMo! If I get this current novel draft finished in time, I plan to use it to get some short stories written.

    I love the idea of little rewards. I know I definitely work better with a carrot dangling in front of me. And I adore that chicken tape dispenser! It would look perfect on my desk….

    Congrats on the 6 submissions!

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Rebecca. I used to be terrible about submitting, and I think it took this huge psychic toll. 6 may not be a lot for some writers, but for me it’s 5 more than any other previous time. I also learned that rejections hurt less when you can spread your hopes out over more stories.

      I think finishing a novel draft deserves a BIG reward. Like a real chicken. Or a chicken dinner? Or an entire, life-size chicken, made out of chocolate. Good luck!

  2. Yes! I thought it was just me that did that at Target. The pens are so tantalizing! And I’m also doing NaNoWriMo, I am absolutely terrified and absolutely ready.

    • Mae, Everyone knows you can’t write a novel without good pens! My justification for the colored gel pens (because I only write in blue or black) is that I can use them for revisions, like the different colored modes in Scrivener. Except, um, I have Scrivener, so…I mean, shhh, don’t tell anyone. Good luck with your novel. Do you know what it’s going to be about or will you find on Nov 1 (or possibly on Nov 30)?

  3. Yes!! Oh how I love office supplies. Those skyscraper erasers are amazing! I can’t buy fancy notebooks though, they just sit pristine in a drawer. I have to buy cheap notebooks and muss them into my style. But those $3 notebooks feel like the most decadent treat. Congrats on having 6 stories out on submission! Shooing them out the door always makes me feel like writing new stuff. 🙂

    • Hi Jenni, One of the worst parts of this weakness is that I often don’t want to mess up the fancy stuff by *using* it, so it accumulates. I too can only write in cheap notebooks, it feels like so much more freedom, and somehow it feels both more serious and more ordinary, like I’m just putting on my overalls and going out into the field. Don’t need nuthin’ fancy. In the Lynda Barry workshop, she had us draw an X through our paper every time we started to write–so that it was already messed up.

      I’m getting those stories out to make room for (dum dum dum DUM) The Novel.

  4. I’ve found that as much as I like pretty supplies, they have to be things I already use a version of, or I get into a sneaky sad spiral. I buy office supplies in hopes of becoming the person who uses them– folders for everything, neat little labels, organizational tools– and then I don’t, and I am reminded of my failure to be that person whenever I see them.
    But better versions of things I use? Totally fair. Like getting new fountain pen ink when my black Noodler’s went all weird, or coming up with an excuse to buy the felt-tip markers my carry-notebook really needs.

    • Actually, I just thought of an example: my CW notebook. I brought my usual notebook and it was completely inadequate– I cannot use half-notebooks, has to be tiny or full-sized. So I hit the UW bookstore and found the One True Notebook. I scribbled in it a lot… and haven’t touched it since because it is supposed to be nice, isn’t it?

      Except it really is a spectacularly good notebook.

      • I admit that I succumb to the fantasy of the fantastically organized person. I have papers and bits of papers all over my desk. If I buy all the folders and labels and stickers and tabs, I will become organized. I will have a system and I will stick to it and I will be tidy and energetic.

        Choosing a notebook is art, science, & magic. For me, it has to be cheap. It has to be the right size. It must be spiral bound. It has to have a durable cover. It has to be close (“college”)-ruled. 3-pole-punched ok, but absolutely no weird space-wasting margins.

        But I think we’re entitled. These are the tools of our trade, right? I’m always jealous of fine artist friends who have fascinating studios jumbled with art supplies and inspiration. What do I have?–A pile of scribbled-on pages. There’s a desire there to reflect at a glance at least some of what’s going on inside. To find a way to let some of it leak out into my surroundings.

  5. Oooh, love the writing toys. Definitely am behind the good pen–you should almost crave the feeling of that ink flowing out. SIX STORIES OUT THERE? You truly are a bad ass.

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