Always Reward Your Writing Brain

Why you want to "hard wire" pleasure to writing

Posted Oct 30, 2015

As many across the world are gearing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), they are setting the goal of writing 50,000 words in November. While tapping into the collective energy that comes when writing along with thousands and thousands of other writers can be heady, energizing, and productive, it's important to set realistic expectations of how many words you can write each day, and to reward your writing brain for whatever you manage to accomplish. And this holds true for any writing goals you set.

Two things neuroscientists have discovered are that your brain actively seeks to please you and it responds to rewards. When you feel good, your brain releases and bathes itself in what are called the feel-good chemicals—dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, and others—which is so pleasurable for your brain that it eagerly awaits new opportunities to repeat this experience.

Thus, if you cue up reasonable expectations around writing and then reward your brain after each writing session—by pausing to feel good about what you’ve accomplished, and/or by doing something that will awaken your brain’s reward center (going for a walk, savoring a chocolate, enjoying a glass of wine with your beloved, or simply doing something that creates pleasure for you)—your brain will release the feel-good chemicals.

Your writing brain will then seek, anticipate, and enjoy opportunities to repeat that experience. The goal is to fire up your writing brain by “hard-wiring” pleasure with writing, which will make writing sessions an activity both your mind and your brain desire and enjoy.

Hint: Be careful not to “punish” yourself if you fail to meet daily wordcount goals. Better to keep daily word count goals achievable, focus more on the quality of writing, and reward yourself when you reach your goals. Remember, the more you wire a feeling of success to the act of writing, the easier writing will become.

Susan Reynolds is a Boston-based science writer. Her most recent book is Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful WriterShe also coauthored Train Your Brain to Get Happy, and Train Your Brain to Get Rich.