Can’t Finish That Novel? Try Dopamine!
So, you’re writing a novel.
Let’s see if this has happened to you.
Somewhere around the 20,000 word mark, or maybe at 40,000, a slow, creeping dread settles in your bones. It’s cold, like saline in your arteries.
You stop and think:
“Okay, let’s figure this out. I’m going to write this novel for three months. Then I’m going to need another month, maybe two, maybe three, to get it read, get it cleaned up, get a second draft out. Might need to do a third draft. Or a fourth. This could take me a year. And then what? A month to find an agent? Six months? Then it’ll take that agent the same amount of time to sell — or, more likely, not sell — the book. Then it’ll be a year before it comes out. God only knows how well it’ll even sell. Is it original? What if someone beats me to market? Dolphin Vampires are hot right now, but in… let’s do some math here… two years? Advances are shrinking. Borders just fell into a pile of its own sick. I heard a rumor that nobody’s publishing any new authors. This book isn’t even that good. I’m not really that good. I’m, what, C+ at best? What am I doing? Who are these characters? Why are they saying these things? Are these even sentences? Should three commas be shoved together like that? Where are my pants? Why can’t I feel my legs? My mouth is dry. I need a drink. I need a gun. I need a gun that will shoot a drink into my brain. The Scotch-Gun. The Wine-O-Blaster. I don’t think I want to write this novel anymore. By god, what’s the fucking point?”
Then you kind of melt into a puddle of insignificant goo.
Problem is, writing a novel is like a walk across an endless expanse. You only start to see the end when you’re, duh, near the end. The rest of the time, you’re left wandering. Uncertain. The sun is bright. The land is bleached. The peaks and valleys you found when you started have evened out.
It’s time for –
No, wait, I need to do this in all caps.
IT’S TIME FOR SOME MOTHERFUCKING DOPAMINE.
Dopamine is released when we complete or achieve something. It’s why those stupid Xbox achievements are small but meaningful — that little bubble window that lets us know bloop, we just earned the 10 point achievement for “Donkey Wrangler” gives us a tiny spike of dopamine. Video games mete out achievements and successes in a smart way — a mini-boss here, a new weapon there.
Writing a novel has none of that.
Not really, anyway.
So, we need to trick our brains into releasing some dopamine along the way, into convincing us that this is indeed a worthwhile endeavor. Because it is. Because telling a story is a glorious thing deserving of mighty praise. You are laying down legendary footprints. You are ripping open the Bigfoot’s stomach and showing the world its contents for the first time. Storytelling is some awesome shit.
As writers, we need something that rewards us — like how when the rat does something good, he gets a food pellet or a mouse comes out and tickles his nuts with a feather.
Part of me thinks, dang, those god-awful goblins that plague a writer — lack of discipline, procrastination, self-doubt — could be cured if we just figured out a way to trigger dopamine in our penmonkey brains.
Some of it we can do ourselves, right? We set benchmarks and, at each benchmark, gain rewards. Could be graded like experience points in a game. “When I get to 1,000 words, I get a cookie. When I get to 5,000 words, I get an ice cream cone. When I get to 10,000 words, I get a handjob.” And the rewards continue to escalate from there: oral sex, new video game, ice cream cake, a day off, a pet komodo dragon.
We can certainly incorporate others into our Quest For Dopamine, too. Have friends, loved ones, sex monkey partners and writing buddies help you out — high-fives and offered rewards for achieving certain milestones.”Get to 5k, I’ll send you an e-card. Get to 50k, I’ll send you a bushel of apples. Finish the novel, I will grant you the power of God.” Or whatever.
But dang, it’d be great if we could programmatically do that. Like, when you literally hit that mark, your computer bings and you get some kind of Storyteller Badge. You could get achievements for using a certain rare word or for utilizing alliteration without appearing like a douche. (Shut up, I love alliteration, stop dumping pig’s blood on me at the Prom.) This sounds like a hot mod for Scrivener.
I’m not just being glib. I’m actually serious.
We writers need to trick our brains into ejaculating a creamy packet of dopamine.
And so I put it to you, Internets. Let’s talk about this. Let’s figure out how to set up rewards to get us through the grim, tireless expanse of writing a novel. We need to crowdsource this bee-yotch. We need to hive-mind it. We should smash all our brains together until it is one treacly ball of mind-clay.
(Sidenote: I now want to create and market a new brand of candies called DOPAMINTS. They will be crisp peppermint suckling candies that dissolve sweet, sweet dopamine into your body. Nobody can take that idea from me. I call dibs. I call dibs! By the Law of Dibs, it shall be mine!)