You’re Never Too Old for Stars

StarChartSometimes I’m as surprised as anyone when I hear the words that come out of my mouth. That was the case recently when I suggested to 85-year-old Jack that I was going to make  him a star chart to reward him for sticking to his determination to write at least fifteen minutes each day on his memoir project.

“A star chart? What on earth is a star chart? I’m not into astrology!” he quickly informed me.

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing like that. It’s a tool that parents and teachers use with kids to get them to do things like making their beds or turning their homework in on time. It’s a kind of game. You’ll get a star each day you write. You already have five. I’m going to send you your stars as soon as we hang up.”

He was a little dubious, but he liked getting the email with the stars. I send him a new one every week or so with an update. He hasn’t missed a day of writing in 47 days now. Some days he writes for the minimum fifteen minutes, other days he might write for as long as two hours. Usually it’s closer to half an hour.

“I’ve got to tell you, I was skeptical when you told me about that star chart thing, but I’m surprised how much I like getting those stars. It’s kind of like having perfect attendance at Rotary for the last fifty-two years. When I start something like that, I don’t give up easily!” he told me a few weeks later, grinning like a little kid.

Especially considering that he had started working on this project half a dozen abortive times over several years before we met, this is phenomenal progress, and he’s eager for the world to know how powerful star charts are.

Jack’s progress got me excited. I’m going to make one for writing blog posts – an undertaking that has become too easy to put off in the crush of other activities.

I like to make them in Word, starting with a basic table like the one you see above. You can use the Draw toolbar to make a basic star shape, then copy and paste that into a cell each time you earn a star. You can award stars for completing tasks on specific days, or you can accrue them for results apart from time. For example, Jack gets them for any amount of writing, but there has to be at least fifteen minutes each day. He only gets one star whether he writes for fifteen minutes or two hours, and he gets no star if he doesn’t write.

Another way to do it would be one star for each fifteen minutes or one star for each page, or … you get the idea.

Jack proved that you are never too old to benefit from a star chart. How about you? You are the star of your story. Would a star chart help you get it written?

Write now: think of a writing project – or something else if you prefer – that might move along more smoothly if you had a place to give yourself stars for your efforts. Make a chart, on the computer or a plain sheet of paper. If it’s real paper, you can glue on old-fashioned stars, or draw them with a marker. Decide on the conditions for awarding your stars, then, however you do it, give a try.


Linda said...

I love it! Great idea!


kathleen pooler said...

I agree,Sharon. This is a great idea! Basically, I think we need to do whatever it takes stay motivated and if it means giving ourselves stars then I say go for it. We never outgrow our need for positive reinforcement.

SuziCate said...

I've made it a habit to write every day. Even though I don't post on my blog on the weekends, I still write. And sometimes I even delete what I write later, but still I write....

Sharon Lippincott said...

Linda and Kathleen,

We each have to find what works for us. Our older son needed a star chart at school to motivate him to turn in his assignments. His teacher put it discreetly on the pullout board on her desk. He drew his own star when he turned one in. If he got them all in on time, at the end of the week, she sent a note home entitling him to a reward of his choice. I held my breath when I agreed with the teacher to try this, not sure how deep the hole I was digging might be. His choice? A candy bar! He kept the chart for two weeks, then forgot about it, but kept handing in his assignments.

Sharon Lippincott said...


Your devotion to both writing and photography show on your blog. Your steadiness both awes and inspires me.

Linda O'Connell said...

Every one can benefit form alittle motivation. I teach a senior's writing class and I too have an octgenarian who is writing his memoir, albeit a bit steamy :)

Sharon Lippincott said...

Oooh. A steamy memoir from an octogenarian. Woo woo! I once had a wizened old fellow ask me what I'd suggest he write about. That was long before I could point to the list of writing prompts in my book. I gave him a few suggestions, then he paused, smiled broadly and said, "I suppose I could write about my sex life." I nearly dropped my teeth. I SO did not want to hear anything about that! And I suspect his children didn't either. I told myself I wouldn't have wanted to hear that from any man, or woman either. But hey! It was important to him. Who's to judge?

Brainie said...

Hello, Sharon,
I love your site and its enormous potential to help people write. As to the old man writing about sex, I could totally get behind that and encourage him. Probably, he would have to use a lot of discretion about sharing his writing with others.
Thank you for this wonderful blog.

Brainie from Stubblejumpers Cafe