Writing for Carrots

Are you writing for carrots?

It’s a weird question that I’ve had bubbling around my brain lately, so I probably need to explain. 

You’ve seen the old cartoons where the horse was constantly chasing the carrot, right? It’s always there, just out of reach, and you know that poor horse is not going to catch that carrot unless he has a nice jockey who’ll give it to him after the race is run.

But would the horse run if there was no carrot?

Ditch the Carrot

Let’s take success totally out of the mix. Let’s ditch the carrot. Will you still write? Don’t get me wrong. Success is important. You absolutely should expect to make money from your writing business. But your eventual success is determined by your mindset. 

Is your character trying to get out of trouble? How will they deal with someone offering to buy their way out...for a price?

Instead of being driven by what could happen, and then riding the rollercoaster of unmet expectations, practice existing in your present. What is happening?

If you’ve ever met me in person, you’ll know within minutes that I live my life by meeting goals. I am a HUGE advocate of setting goals and driving toward them. But solely focusing on the end goal can steal the joy of the writing….which is why we’re all here to begin with. 

When we start focusing on our carrot instead of our why–the reason we write–that’s when we start to lose the race. We might win here and there, but over time, we’ll become tired, burned out, disinterested. We’ll feel like a workhorse instead of a horse who gets to run.

So how can we avoid becoming a dusty, tired workhorse of a writer?

Identify Your Carrot

This month, NaNoWriMo is all the rage. But when you don’t have an event pushing you forward, what drives you to write? Why are you a writer?

Determining this answer is going to be key to your longevity in this industry. Your carrot will change shape, color, texture, and taste. But your why should not.

Let’s say your carrot is critique partner feedback. You’ve sent your pages off to be critiqued, and the anticipation of getting feedback–being told what lines they LOVED, how the story has hit them, ideas for improving scenes–it’s distracting. It may be so distracting that you end up waiting for those pages to come back before you feel you can move on.

But what if your critique partner can’t get to your pages when they say they will? And you’re there, waiting.

…Still waiting…

You’ve become so focused on your carrot, you’ve forgotten your why. And in doing this, you’ve stopped running your race. You’ve hobbled your success.

So how do you keep writing…

  • When there’s not a contest
  • When you’re not waiting on agent or editor feedback
  • When you don’t have a new release
  • When you don’t have a deadline
  • When you’re not waiting on critique partner feedback
  • When your story won’t be ready for readers for a looooong time
  • When it’s not NaNoWriMo
  • When you’ve blown your publishing schedule out of the water
  • When you’re starting over
  • When you’ve lost everything

Find the Joy

Go back to your why. You started writing for a reason. What was it? Do you remember? Was it to write for that girl or boy you used to be? Or to tell a story that heals a heart?

When you figure it out, write your why down, in a place you’ll look at often. Even better, frame it and hang it above your desk. Spraypaint it all over your walls. Needlepoint it. Shave it onto your cat. 

Just put it somewhere you’ll be reminded, because those carrots are enticing and hard to keep from becoming our sole focus.


I picked this up from my amazing friend (who also happens to be a creativity coach and uber-talented author) Kerry Schafer

Instead of “I have to make this deadline,” reframe it to “I get to have a deadline!” 

See what just happened there? You turned the work into a reminder for joy.

Instead of, “I have to make my NaNoWriMo word count,” REFRAME! “I GET TO WRITE 1,666.67 WORDS TODAY!”

Shouting, jumping, and dancing while reframing is highly encouraged.

Be Stubborn

Stubbornness is a virtue, as any two-year-old will tell you. For mommas and daddies, this virtue can be underappreciated.

But for a writer…good gracious, y’all, BE STUBBORN! Put that two-year-old stubbornness to shame. We all have that quality within us. Be the horse that stubbornly runs, no matter what’s in front of them. You don’t need that ol’ carrot. All you need is your own determination, a will that will not be moved, no matter how many times you’re told you can’t eat cookies for breakfast…

Remember Your Dreams…and Turn Them into Healthy Goals

An unfortunate reality of dream-living is we often don’t have control on the timing of our dreams coming true. So turning your dreams into goals is a really good way to set yourself up for becoming a tired workhorse.

But what if your goal was to touch one life with one of your stories? What if your goal was to just write? What if your goal was directly related to your why? How would that feel? (Another fantastic question picked up from Kerry–seriously, check out her Write at the Edge site.)

In Defense of Carrots

There is nothing wrong with having a carrot. Carrots can be great short-term motivation. 

Just be careful that the carrot doesn’t become your only reason for running.

Christina Delay

Resident Writing Coach

Christina is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning psychological suspense author. She also writes award-winning supernatural suspense under the name Kris Faryn. You can find Kris at: Bookbub ǀ Facebook ǀ Amazon ǀ Instagram.
Cruising Writers brings authors together with bestselling authors and industry professionals on writing retreats. Join Cruising Writers this November in the Easter Caribbean with Writers Helping Writers co-founder Angela Ackerman and New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Darynda Jones!

About Writing Coach

To find out more about this amazing Resident Writing Coach, visit our RWC page.
This entry was posted in Balance, Goal and Milestones, Goal Setting, Motivational, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude. Bookmark the permalink.
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[…] Delay warns us against writing for carrots, and Jael McHenry discusses the relationship between writing, verbs, and […]

Dawn Ross
1 year ago

Thank you for this. I had a content editor who tore my feelings up with snarky comments like “ZZZZ” or “Rolling Eyes”. It put me off of writing for an entire year! I started thinking like the points made at the end of your article and I realized that I wasn’t writing for her anyway. I was writing for me. Whether I do well enough to make money at writing is not really the point. The point is that I write my story because I love to write and because it is an accomplishment in itself to get this story out of my head and onto paper.

Christina Delay
1 year ago
Reply to  Dawn Ross

I am so sorry you had that experience. No person, critique partner, or editor…especially an editor you’re paying…should ever give feedback like that.

On the flip side, good on you for coming back to the heart of your writing. It’s not easy to do after feedback like that, and going through this process has made you a more resilient author!

Deborah Makarios
1 year ago

What bothers me is when the carrot gets turned into a stick to beat yourself with – an inedible stick – an agent of guilt and distress, not celebration.
Reach them carrots, eat them carrots, go on to the next-size-up carrot. Or, you know, chocolate cake.

Christina Delay
1 year ago

So often that’s true. That’s why it is so important to shift your focus back to why. Remembering your mission is key to keeping those carrots in line.

1 year ago

I needed this today. Thanks for the reminder!

Christina Delay
1 year ago
Reply to  Joan

Glad it arrived at the right moment for you!

Justine Covington
1 year ago

I think this is why I can’t buy into the 20 books to 50K model…I don’t care about making a ton of money (although enough to cover costs would be nice), and I don’t like the idea of writing to market. That’s chasing a carrot right there. I don’t care about NYT acclaim. I write because I have stories I want to share and I know there are others out there who are (weird) like me. If I have a handful of readers who connect with my stories and who like them because it’s the kind of stories they want to read, then that’s all I’m looking for. I’m in this for the marathon, not the sprint. I want career longevity, but I’m interested in depth, not breadth. I want to deeply engage with readers who also squee about crazy historical stuff because we love it. I don’t simply want readers to pick up my book because it’s “the next hot thing.” Besides, what’s hot always turns cold at some point. Laws of nature and all. 😉

This is ME. YOU are different. And that right there is my anti-carrot…I’m not trying to be like someone else. I’m trying to be me. Comparing myself to others is the worst thing I can do as a writer.

PS — What Paula said above!

Christina Delay
1 year ago

This is an awesome mindset, Justine!

Darlene Foster
1 year ago

I so needed to read this today! Thanks.

Christina Delay
1 year ago
Reply to  Darlene Foster

I’m so glad it arrived at the right moment for you!

1 year ago

Love this post. I think when we are too focused on the carrot (especially big carrots like becoming a NYT Bestseller or carrots that are not in our control like getting a YES from our dream agent) it is a fast-track route to disillusionment, feeling like a failure, and questioning if we’ve got the chops for this career.

Stay focused on why you are doing something – your passion for it- and the rest will follow. Have you ever read Simon Sinek’s Start With Why? Great book.

So glad to see your debut post with us! Many hearts coming your way!

Christina Delay
1 year ago

BIG thanks to you and Becca for giving me the opportunity to speak with your readers! And I’m off to take a look at that book now as it sounds right up my alley!

Paula Cappa
1 year ago

I like this post a lot, Christina. Sometimes we can become overly concerned with the materialistic aspects of writing. Becoming free of ambition is a place of freedom and can inspire creativity. Reminds me what poet/novelist May Sarton said about her own small career. She felt isolated and overlooked by the publishing establishment. She said she often has to see her work “stand alone and make its way, heart by heart, as it is discovered by a few people with all the excitement of a person who finds a wildflower in the woods that he has discovered on his own. From my isolation to the isolation of someone who will find my work there exists a true communion.” Journal of a Solitude.

Christina Delay
1 year ago
Reply to  Paula Cappa

Hi Paula! I love this so much. This is a perfect way to think about this issue.