I have a four year old, and in my short-lived parenting experience, bribery is useful. I don’t use it often, because I don’t want to be strong-armed by someone who has THAT MUCH LEVERAGE, but I do pull it out from time to time.

I have a few secrets in bribery:

1. Only use bribery when it’s a mountain, not a molehill. For example, I won’t bribe my son to behave himself in the grocery store, but I will bribe him to do something he finds terrifying.

2. In order for it to work, I have to wait for him to find something he really, really wants. He has to want that item badly enough that he doesn’t forget about it a day later.

3. The bribe has to be one level higher than the thing that scares him. A dollar store trip is not going to be enough to get him to tackle the monster in the closet, but it might entice him to put his ears in the water.

We used “The Bribe” to get my son so stay in his room all night long, even if he wakes up. This was a big deal for our little guy, so it took some bribery to make the effort worth it for him. We’re now using it to get him to sit still in church–another challenge that will take a lot of hard work for him to accomplish. We just sweeten the deal a little.


I don’t think we outgrow bribes. Well, perhaps we should outgrow the illegal kind, but I think that the general concept of putting in a large amount of work for a payoff is a solid one. We aren’t willing to put a huge amount of work into something that doesn’t offer some sort of payoff. As a novelist, I have to want publication so badly that I’m willing to:

A. Put in the work of writing a complete novel
B. Learn the tricks of the trade–both in on a general level and specifically for the genre. (For me, that’s a BA in English Lit and a whole lot of hands on writing experience.)
C. Get rejected again and again and respond with “Thank you. May I rewrite and submit again?”
D. Follow steps A to C repeatedly until a contract is given.
E. Keep writing novels

The payoff is very much delayed. It can take a couple of years, so The Bribe has to be one level higher than the thing that scares me: rejection. And publication counts. It’s the perfect bribe. It’s the one thing I want so badly I can taste it.

What’s your Perfect Bribe?