Monday, March 25, 2013

Pavlov’s Dog Drooled on My Laptop (How Conditioning Can Help You With Your Writing)

Our sweet octogenarian dog, Buck. This is what happens when he decides to nap in the girls’ room.

        In my recent studies to improve my “craft”, there seems to be one thing I keep reading over and over again: habit. You must make your writing a habit.

I love what Tiberghien says about this in her book, One Year to a Writing Life: “A person who writes has the habit of writing. The word habit refers to a routine, but also to a stole, to a costume befitting a calling.”

The reason I love that quotation is because it made me think a lot about another thing I seem to be reading everywhere that, while not usually expressed in these exact words, is “associative learning.” Stephen King says that to be a writer, you must write (duh, we all know that, we make ourselves crazy trying to find the time). But he also says that you need a writing place. A place of your own. (Doesn’t have to be big. He wrote his first bestseller in the corner of a laundry room.) And you need a time of day. An hour or so that is dedicated only to writing. 

So, place + time = habit. 

Which brings me back to this idea of associative learning- think Pavlov’s dog. The dog got into the habit of receiving food every time a bell rang, thus the sound of a ringing bell conditioned his mouth to water. I have always been fascinated by this concept, and I find some version of it in most self-help books/programs.

For example, one of FlyLady’s most important rules is to get dressed every morning to your shoes. She says, “Your shoes tell your brain it’s time to go to work.” It’s true. I am much more likely to get up and go do the dishes, put the laundry away, or vacuum if I’m wearing a pair of sneakers. My brain is conditioned to know that when I am wearing sneakers, I will not be lounging around on the couch curled up with a good book (no shoes on the couch). Those shoes are my “stole befitting a calling.” Well, if you can consider the laundry a calling. I prefer to call it a pain in the neck, but that’s neither here nor there.

I think that Stephen King’s place + time formula is the same idea. If you make a habit out of writing in a certain place at a certain time then your brain begins to connect those things with writing and when you go that place at that time, your brain will automatically go into writing mode. No cajoling, pleading, begging, or hair pulling from you required.

Here’s another example: I once read an article on how to combat insomnia. One of the recommendations was to make sure that your bed and your bedroom were used only for sleeping- not reading, not eating, not hanging out surfing the web- just sleeping. That way, when you get into bed your body automatically thinks: bed = sleep time. The article said that if you can’t sleep, get up and do something else and then try again (otherwise your brain will associate your bed with not sleeping).

Writer’s block is kind of like insomnia, right? I think the same principle should work. 

        Now, most of us probably don’t have the luxury of a whole room dedicated only to writing, but it would probably benefit us to at least choose a place (Stephen King recommends somewhere you can close the door) and a time that is only for writing. 

Place + Time = Habit = Writer (that’s you)

One more example? How about the studies they’ve done where people remember information better when they take the test in the same place where they learned the information? I have no supporting evidence for this. I just read it somewhere once. But it’s true, promise.

So here’s your assignment this week: pick a time and a place. I am planning on digging out my craft room/office to use for this exact purpose. Leave a comment and tell me about your time and place. Then when I’m in mine becoming a writer I can imagine you in yours becoming a writer and we can all become writers together. It’s a beautiful thing. ☺

1 comment:

  1. Good thinking. I think it's absolutely true we need to structure our writing life. I'm very lucky to have a loft where I write. Our family shares the computer somewhat, but mostly it's mine. (Hubs has a laptop, daughter has a Nexus.) My problem is the loft is always a mess. I have several projects going at once, and I need a better storing system. So, I come up to write, then get sidetracked going through paperwork, returning phone calls, etc. I do associate the loft with writing, did not realize it 'til I read this. :-)



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