A Distracting Thumping Noise

There is an arrhythmic metallic thudding sound coming from a place behind me and to my left.  It is distracting.  While I know how to make it stop, I hesitate to take the required steps.  They would make the thumping stop for now but would likely increase the possibility of hearing more of it in the future.

What is this annoying sound that has lately increased in frequency?  It’s my parrot, who has discovered that if he tugs on the corner of his cage it has just enough give to make a fun noise when he lets go.

The challenges of ending this sound are threefold.  One, he likes making the sound, so it’s probable that he’ll keep doing it just because it’s fun.  Two, much like a whiney two-year-old, he’s doing it to get attention.  If I respond when he’s making the sound, no matter what the response, he will have succeeded in getting my attention.

And the third problem?  The easiest way of preventing the sound in the first place is to open his door and let him come hang out on the top of his cage.  This is where he spent most of this evening.  However, the time is getting late and he has to go inside when I go to bed.

What does all of this have to do with writing?  Nothing, except to explain why my parrot is annoying me, and thus keeping me from creating something really interesting for my post this evening.



Life Without Pets

It’s weird being in my apartment without my boys.

Whenever I get ready for a trip, my animals go stay somewhere else.  Sometimes I only have a few hours between dropping them off and leaving, but this time I got several days without the dog, and part of a day without either of them.  (The dog stayed with friends for the workshop and was going back to the same house for Galapagos, so he just stayed there for the interim as well.  The bird stayed home for the workshop.)

Two things are glaringly obvious when there are no animals.  One is that my routine is built around them in many ways.  The dog has to be walked several times a day, and I have to schedule my life around his.  (It was nice to go to be really early one night and not have to worry about waking up to take him out after a few hours.)  The other thing that I notice is the quiet.  The dog barks more than I’d like, usually at neighbors or cars, and he whines (sometimes at me, sometimes in general) on a regular basis.  The bird, too, has a lot to say, although he’s quieter at my house than anywhere else.  Without woofs, whines, and whistles, my apartment seems unusually quiet.

I’m not sure how I’d like a life without pets.  The good news is, with a parrot in my life, I probably won’t ever be entirely pet free!


I like nicknames.  I use them in my stories for different reasons.  Everyone in real life uses nicknames for their friends and family, so incorporating them for your characters gives them that instant “real-life” feel.

Sometimes, too, it helps develop a culture.  In Dragon, my elves think it is disrespectful to use someone’s full name without their permission, so everyone in that book has a nickname.  (And by everyone, I mean everyone.) This even becomes a point of mild conflict, mirroring a larger culture difference, because the dragons believe it is disrespectful to use anything other than an individual’s full name.

I use a lot of nicknames for my pets, too.  Eli (my dog) has recently been called Beast, Beastie, Mutt, Mutthead, and Dog.  He’s got old nicknames, too, that don’t get used as much now.  These include Trouble, Trouble-Dog, Skinny Dog, Wrinkle-Dog, Mr. Wrinkles, and Muttface.  The bird has fewer, but he’s been in my life a shorter time.  I do call him Monster, Little Bird, Bird, and BatMax (when he’s hanging upside-down).  I am less specific with nicknames for friends and family, although I would like to take credit for my sister’s most oft used nickname.  I pointed out as a child that her initials spelled a name, and that name stuck!  (In an effort to preserve my secret identity, I will not reveal that name, as it will give you the first initial of my real last name.)

It’s fun to think of nicknames for characters, since the hard part (giving them a real name) is done.  The easiest way to do it is to imagine that you are friends with them and have to use their name over and over.  What would you end up calling them?  That’s the best nickname for them, the one that would come naturally out of the use of their name.

Hi, Max!

I am working on a new behavior with my parrot.  Recently he’s started saying “hi” a lot, and I’ve decided that I want to capture that behavior on cue.  (Yes, this post is related to writing – bear with me.)

For those of you who are not animal trainers, capturing a behavior on cue simply means getting the bird to say the word when I ask for it.

The process is relatively simple, and Max and I have done it before with his “meow” sound.  First, anytime he says the word and I hear it, I enthusiastically reply with the cue.  In this case, it’s “Hi, Max!”  He figures out pretty quickly which sounds get a response from me; as a response is his goal, he’ll start offering those sounds more often.  (Consider this a warning to any other parrot owners out there – if there is a loud or irritating sound that your bird makes, don’t react in any way or you will hear it more and more often!  Yes, I have made this mistake, too.)  I’ve been saying “Hi Max!” a lot lately.

The big trick is to switch it, so the sound comes in response to the cue instead of the other way around.  Today I got Max to say “Hi” in response to “Hi, Max” twice, which is a step in the right direction.  Both times I made a much bigger deal about it than it was, so Max would know that I was pleased and he did the right thing.  Now it’s just a matter of practice to get it consistent.

Okay, so I know you are all thinking “What does training your parrot have to do with writing?”

Simple.  Training techniques work on humans, too.

One of the things that many people ask me about and other writers complain about is getting your brain to be creative when you want it to be.  The advice that many authors will give is to write at the same time every day, and this is an excellent idea which I try to embrace.  There is also a way to use positive reinforcement training (similar to my parrot’s training) to get yourself to write.

Set up small goals for yourself.  I’ve done this: post a blog every day, write a few chapters every week, and so on.  Then create a reward system.  I depend on others for my reinforcement, but you don’t have to if you have a better reward.  My reward system is two-fold: continuing readership and comments are my reward for my blog posts, and the reaction of my First Readers is my reinforcement for writing chapters.  Even with those big rewards, I use small ones, too.  If I have a day where writing is the last thing I want to do, I’ll set up a reward.  For example: complete one of the unfinished chapters (or whatever the goal is for the day) and then you can read (or whatever it is I’d really rather be doing).  While it is less useful on my diet, I will also use food rewards (which I recommend for animal training as well).  Write and then you can have candy/ice cream/lunch, etc.

I always say that a good animal trainer has the skills necessary to be a good people trainer.  That applies to yourself as well as other humans.  🙂

Want to learn more about positive reinforcement training for animals and people?  I recommend Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.