The only thing that bothers me more than a rejection slip is a writing project I can’t seem to see through to the end. Sometimes this manifests as an inability to finish a piece I am writing; at other times this manifests as an inability to put the finished piece out there into the world.

I started Centaur Station, a science fiction novel, as a short story around nine years ago. I abandoned it several times, upgraded it to a book, abandoned it again, then, two years ago, tackled it in earnest, determined to complete the damn thing. It is now in its final draft, and I keep going over and over the manuscript, adding this, deleting that, never satisfied. Friends periodically say, “So how’s the book going?” and I reply cheerfully, “Almost done, almost done, I just have two chapters left!” I’ve been saying that since 2016.

My fantasy novel, Morningfall, has gone through endless rewrites. I finally finished it, and there it sits, on my desktop Mac, slumbering peacefully. So does A Distaff Dictionary: Words Mom Used to Shape Our Lives, a humorous nonfiction dictionary of my mother’s weird, wonderful, funny neologisms and slang inventions. Why haven’t I started to market these pieces? No idea.

At least, I had no idea until I tried the following exercise. If you’re experiencing the same blocks I am, give the following a try. It just may unfreeze you and get you going again.

1. Down the lefthand side of a piece of paper or e-doc page, write 1 through 10, one number per line.
2. Title the page at the top REWARDS OF WRITING SUCCESS.
3. Set your timer for five minutes. Then, on each line, write down what rewards you want your writing career to bring you. Don’t edit or judge yourself: write down everything that occurs to you, no matter how embarrassing or unlikely you may feel it to be. Write as quickly and as honestly as possible. If you come up with more than ten ideas, write them down, too. When you run out of ideas, stop.

This is the list I made:

Financial abundance
Popular motion pictures made of my books
Deep self-respect
One million delighted vlog followers
Deep sense of a life purpose fulfilled
Make wonderful magic with my words
Life-partner (huh??)
Fame that lasts beyond my death
Make my family and friends proud of me
Feel closer to my God (huh? I’m not even religious!)

Why don’t you make your list now? By the way, if you feel blocked and can’t think of many rewards, try listing the things you’re most afraid will happen if your writing career tanks. Write down everything that occurs to you. Then change each dreaded outcome into its opposite. Example #1: None of my works sell. Reverse? All of my works sell. Example #2: Consistently awful reviews. Reverse: Consistently glowing reviews. Example #3: Contempt from loved ones at my failure. Reverse: Praise from loved ones for my success. And so forth.

4. When you’ve finished your list, reset your timer for another five minutes. Then go down your list again, and put a star next to those experiences that feel the most important to you—the ones that, if you don’t achieve them, you’ll likely want to give up writing forever. If you’re not sure or can’t decide which to star, guess. (You can always go back later and change what you star.) If you feel all of them are essential, star all of them. And remember: the ones you don’t star are still very important and should not be abandoned.

I starred financial abundance, deep self-respect, life purpose fulfilled, make magic with my words, lasting fame, and feel closer to my God. What did you star?

5. Finally, go back over your starred items one more time. Ask yourself, “If I could only have  one of these rewards, which one feels the most crucial—the nearest to my center?” And I was forced to choose make wonderful magic with my words.

This gave me the clue I need to finish my novel and market the others. I have to face the appalling truth that I have to stop worrying about fame and fortune, and focus upon writing pieces that, first and foremost, produce within me a sense of wonder and delight. Rereading my works with this in mind renews my enthusiasm for the creative process and gets me back in the saddle. For those are the works that are most likely to sell and be enjoyed by others.

What’s your favorite reward?