Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pavlov Helps Writers

Writing Pavlov Style

Many writers will admit this is not an easy business. When the words flow and the book practically leaps from our fingers onto the computer, writing is exciting. Many times we edit our work and think, “Wow! Did I really write that?” I love laughing at my own jokes. But….there are days when the words don’t flow. When writing is tough work. The muse has taken a vacation without letting us know when she is coming back. When those days roll around, we look for tricks to help us sit down and type.

I recently read an inspiring blog post from a writer I have known for years now, Cassie Ryan. She shared her tricks for writing when the muse is away.

What caught my attention was using behavior modification and she referred to Pavlov’s work. It was basically a simple, yet effective experiment. The researcher rang a bell every time a dog was fed. Soon the dog drooled every time he heard a bell regardless of whether or not he saw food.
This is how Cassie tied it into writing:

“2. Use Pavlov’s Dogs Phenomenon to your advantage.
We all remember the story of Pavlov’s dogs, we need to use that same idea to train ourselves. Get yourself in a routine that’s flexible and yet familiar. My usual writing spot is a squishy chair at Starbucks with a hot Chai next to me, my headphones in and movie soundtracks (with no words) playing softly while I write. With this combination of events, I can easily fall back into my story and tune out the world. So what happens when all the squishy chairs are taken, or I can’t make it to Starbucks for some reason (or I’m sick of it because I just finished a gazillion hour shift there?) I use the same scenario, but flex it a bit. I’ve found that as long as I’m somewhere comfy (booth at the Barnes & cafĂ©, my recliner in my living room, a booth at a restaurant, my back porch) I can still have a drink of my choice next to me, my laptop on my lap, my headphones in and my movie soundtracks playing in the background. That means I can begin salivating…er….writing, nearly anywhere. Find your own “Pavlov’s phenomenon” and put it to work for you.”

I once heard author Susan Mallory suggest you use a scent to help by taking in a specific aroma every time the writing is going well. She said you could later use the aroma to help your mind think that it was time to write just by smelling it.
My blogging partner, Kim Watters, would wake up early every morning to write. Many writers sit down and type at the same time every day. Their mind begins to think, “It’s five o’clock – time to write.”

Today I spent some time figuring out the best system for me. I know I have to have coffee. The caffeine gives me the jolt I need to get started. If I’m tired I’ll need Starbucks. Other than that, I am still narrowing down what works best for me. I tried writing at Starbucks and I get a good start, but inevitably someone will start talking too loud. I found working on my back porch is relaxing and that works well. The trick is going to keeping it up during the summer since I live in Arizona and our summers are often hotter than 110 degrees. After Susan’s suggestion of using an aroma, I decided to place peppermint oil beneath my nose whenever I start writing. I’ll let you know how that works for me in a follow up post.

Do you need to narrow down your best conditions for writing first? Or can you create the circumstances that will work by always writing under a set of conditions you decide will become your habit? Not sure, I guess we’ll find out. I’ll let you know what happened next week.

I am very interesting in what works for you. Please share your secrets in the comments section.
Until next week,
Happy Writing,
Tina LaVon


Cassie Ryan said...

Great blog, Tina! And thanks for quoting me :)

Alexis Walker said...

Tina, I love the scent idea. Hmmm, I'll have to think about what I could make the same about my writing time. It's usually all different times, either at my desk or on my couch, but I do other things at those places as well. I hope other people leave suggestions because I could use one. Maybe I should drink root beer or something specific like that, but I'm not sure how that will go down when I write at 5:00am :-)

Anonymous said...

Thaks for the plug Tina. And yes, I had to train myself to wake up that early to write because I need quiet. There's somthing surreal about how peaceful it is in the morning before the sun comes up and the kids and husband emerge from their rooms.