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.

 

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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.

Creativity and Knowledge

My sister Whitney and I had an interesting discussion about creativity last night.  I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating; Whitney is one of my fans – perhaps even my #1 fan – and we frequently discuss my Serial Central story and novel in progress when we get to chat.  I highly value her opinion and input; she’s a great sounding board.

I am also one of her fans – perhaps even her #1 fan – and we also frequently discuss her creative efforts.  She is a choreographer (primarily musical theater but she is gifted in many forms of dance) and while I am only a mediocre choreographer and less-than-mediocre dancer, she values my input and opinions. 

Last night we decided that we are the perfect example of creativity working better when there is training and “vocabulary” involved.  We are both creative and have similar thought processes.  We are both talented at many things, and in similar ways.  So we can eliminate “talent” and “creativity” from the mix for a moment – Whitney and I may not be the same, but in these ways we are comparable.

Whitney and I started dance around the same age.  I got bored and quit early on, returning to dance in high school, while she realized her passion for dance and made it her primary extra-curricular focus.  (Conclusion: she has training and I don’t.)  We also learned to read at similar ages, and were exposed to a household with lots of books.  Whitney never truly developed a passion for reading, while I was a voracious reader who was often in the middle of three or more books at the same time (and never used a bookmark!) through most of my schooling.  (Conclusion: I have read a lot more novels than she has.)

 We’ve eliminated the “talent” and “creativity” piece of the comparison, assuming that we are relatively similar in that regard.  We’ve concluded that I have more exposure to books, particularly novels, and she has more training in dance.  Now for the fun comparison. 

First, for dance.  We both tried our hands at choreography in high school and college, and I must admit that her pieces were always more beautifully constructed than mine.  Not only that, her creation of them is relatively effortless – I have watched her work and unique and varied movement comes naturally to her.  There was one piece, in my opinion her best non-theater piece, that made me somewhat jealous and very proud; she had managed to capture a concept that I had struggled (and mostly failed) to achieve in one of my own pieces.  The difference?  She has the dance “vocabulary” that I am lacking.

Now to the writing side.  My sister, to my knowledge, has written poetry and perhaps a short story or two but never tried to write anything larger-scale.  She communicates very well in writing (she’s pickier about grammar than me!) and she can always tell where my story is going before most other readers.  She has told me that there are many things that I think about or do naturally when it comes to my stories and novel that would never occur to her.  It’s not that she can’t create a plot, or characters, or describe a scene.  It’s the little things, like chapter transitions and point of view, that don’t come naturally to her.  The difference this time?  I have been exposed to the form and format of a novel many more times than her.

One piece of advice that all aspiring authors hear often is “read a lot.”  This is where it comes in to play.  Creativity, talent, and desire are all important, but without the familiarity that comes from avid reading, creating a novel is going to be a lot more work.