Jj: Joe, A Cup of Joe, the Carrot Versus the Stick

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.


Jj: Joe
A Cup of Joe, the Carrot Versus the Stick

Artists are infamous for addictions and fetishes:  caffeine, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes; writing in the bathtub, playing the piano naked, keeping a coffin in the studio to remember life is short so get to work.

Setting these extremes aside, what will lure you to your work? On a challenging day, what carrot can you dangle in front of your nose to walk yourself to your craft?

I don’t believe in using a stick when it comes to daily creative effort. We creative folk are already hard enough on ourselves and would benefit from some softness. Don’t you or others you know feel guilty if they haven’t put time into their work that day? Sometimes, even if we have done our work for the day, we spend the rest of the day fretting over how awful it is and how much better it needs to be! Most artists don’t need a stick, and in fact, we’re at risk for beating the joy right out of our practice.

Instead, there’s the carrot, something enticing and pleasurable to accompany you as you work. For me, it’s a cup of coffee, or two, as strong as I want it, steaming next to me as I work. It gets me to the desk (see also M). I tell myself I can’t sip it anywhere else, just at the desk once I have my fingers on a pencil or keyboard. Often, once I get started writing, the coffee goes cold, the cup still half full.

An enormous bowl of chocolate chips sometimes serves as my carrot. For other friends, it’s a glass of wine or a cigarette. Hey, no judgement. As long as your carrot isn’t too damaging, and you’re healthy and balanced in life overall, I fully embrace the habit of luring yourself to the desk with a treasured treat.

There’s also the practice of delayed gratification (see R), where you prepare a treat for after you’ve put in your daily effort. This practice works too, but sometimes, you need comfort right then and there.

I used to give myself a Hershey’s chocolate kiss after every paper I graded when I was teaching. A few months later, I was mystified about why I couldn’t easily button my pants. Let me just say, if you find yourself buying a couple of bags of chocolate each week, well, maybe you’ve taken the carrot practice a bit too far! However, the carrot works differently for creative effort  because so often, your work becomes its own reward.

So, pour yourself “a cup of ambition” as Dolly Parton says in “9-to-5,” and gently nudge yourself to the desk or studio.



I write and illustrate stationery, cards, customized snail mail (yes, you can receive handwritten and illustrated letters in your mail!!), coloring books, and more. My business name is "Carrot Condo." After teaching English for 15 years (gasp!), I am now a full-time parent and part-time artist slowly, but steadily, building a creative business and life. You can read more at carrotcondo.com or see my products at etsy.com/shop/CarrotCondo. Thanks for your interest and support!!
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8 Responses to Jj: Joe, A Cup of Joe, the Carrot Versus the Stick

  1. Solveig says:

    I am enjoying your posts, as I can relate to them.
    For keeping up with my blog what motivates me are the growing number of followers, the comments and likes I receive for my writing. They are all “external incentives”, still having created some original writing is rewarding in itself.
    I remember that during my second year at university I had set up my own reward system, I would have to work for one hour (or write a certain amount of words) without a break, then I took a break of 10 minutes, where I could surf the Internet, continue reading a book, get a drink, go to the bathroom etc. It worked really well, I ended up being very efficient. Getting my nose back into a good read was always rewarding.

    • TRISTA says:

      That’s an important distinction — “external incentives” versus your own reward system. Both are really important. I might try your one hour of work and ten minutes off routine; I like it.

  2. Alex Hurst says:

    I’m really, really enjoying your series this month. It’s not patronizing and it’s very thoughtful. You’ve given me a lot of useful tips that I can actually USE. Thank you. 🙂

    • TRISTA says:

      Thanks, Alex! I was hoping this would be useful and resonate for a variety of artists. It’s all coming from my own process/struggle. However, I’m really glad you said it’s not patronizing … I hadn’t even thought of that risk! I don’t want to ever come across as if I have all the answers or anything!!

  3. Rose L. says:

    I honestly cannot find one thing that motivates me to write or work on a craft project. It seems that often ideas for writing come to me while I am driving and there is nowhere to pull over, or when I wake at 3 am to go pee and try to write but in the morning I find it almost completely illegible. I guess I should try to find a reward that would really entice me to sit and do it…lobster???

    • TRISTA says:

      Lobster, sure! Or, maybe get one of your writer friends to join you somewhere, like a library, and you both agree to write silently for a full hour, but after that, you get to treat yourselves to something together … tea and cake, a visit to the antique mall, etc.

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