This morning, I was driving hubby to an appointment when something on NPR caught my attention. The report was called “Put Your Money Where Your Girth Is.” The gist of it is that people who put money on the line to lose weight tend to do better than people who simply decide to reward themselves when they reach their goal.

“There are a significant portion of people who have an explicit preference for commitment,” says Karlan. The commitment, or the stakes, help people act in their own self-interest. The contract helps them stay the course.

Karlan describes a recent effort in the Philippines to help smokers quit. Through a local bank, the smokers signed agreements to put their cigarette money into savings accounts and agreed to urine tests. At the end of six months, if the tests showed they had nicotine in their system, their savings were lost — given to charity.

Basically, people respond more to the idea of losing money than of making money. You know this got me thinking, right? 😉

The holy grail for most fiction writers is to sell their novels, whether it’s the first novel or the next series of novels on a new contract. We do all kinds of things to keep ourselves writing. We promise ourselves rewards in addition to the reward of selling. New clothes, a trip, a spa day — whatever it takes, right?

But what about losing something instead of winning? What if instead of promising myself an evening of watching television if I write 5 pages, I pay myself a salary. A salary I will lose if I don’t meet the goal I’ve set for myself.

I’m not talking about 5-page-a-day goals, or novel-in-a-month goals, but realistic goals like those I will face when I get the contract. If my hypothetical contract specifies I will turn in a novel two months from now, then I will pay myself for two months while I work on that novel. And if I miss the deadline, the money either goes to charity or it goes to my hubby to buy whatever he wants for himself. I don’t have to pay myself a lot (obviously there’s a budget), but enough that it will add up in the end to a sum I really don’t want to give up.

I’m still working on this thought, turning it over in my head, but I kind of like the concept. I was the girl who never failed to turn in a paper for college because I had two things in mind: loss of an A grade and loss of the money the class cost if I were to withdraw or fail in any way. The first thing was personal, but the second was, surprise, about money. Money is a good motivator for me.

“What we know about incentives is that people work a lot harder to avoid losing $10 than they will work to gain $10,” explains Ayres. “So something that’s framed as a loss is really effective at changing behavior.”

So what do you think? Is it effective to think in terms of loss rather than gain when trying to write a novel? A statement like if I finish this novel, I can sell it (I hope) and make X dollars (I hope) becomes if I don’t finish this novel on time, I will lose X dollars for sure. I think it could work, but maybe that’s because I know I’m already oriented toward preventing real $$ loss. Hypothetical bucks won’t do it for me. It has to be real. Think hubby will notice if I pay myself $50 a week?