By Christine Carron
Building a habit of writing regularly continues to be a work in progress for me. A major gift of starting this blog has been the confidence-building effect of posting weekly. I show up for this blog (and for you, the readers) and my writing shows up in return. Again and again.
Forming a new behavior, a new habit, is a process. Sometimes the process is fast. Like the time I stopped drinking soda cold-turkey (specifically, my one-Diet-Coke-a-day habit) during graduate school. Others take longer. Like me and the habit of writing regularly.
Nearly six years ago, I got my first (and as of yet only) dog, Keiko the Wonder Dog. Even before my sweet pup arrived, I was on a mission to learn how to train her effectively and with kindness and clarity. It is a learning mission that continues to this day. One that has, of course, positively impacted my journey with Keiko.
Fascinatingly, it has also positively impacted my Write Regularly habit thanks to the crossover utility of insights and ahas that have come from learning and applying reinforcement-based dog training. One of those ahas came from Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, which I read early in my dog-training journey. In it she tells the following story (p. 30):
An urban eighth-grader liked to take her dog for walks on weekends in the country, but the dog often ran off too far and refused to come back when called, especially when it was time to go home. One weekend the girl started making a huge fuss over the dog—praise, patting, baby talk, hugs, the works—whenever, in running about, it came up to her unbidden. When it was time to go home, she called and the dog came gladly. The huge welcome apparently outweighed, as a reinforcer, the dog’s usual prolongation of freedom. It never gave trouble on country walks again.
That story imprinted on my mind. I immediately integrated the spirit of it into how I relate to Keiko. No matter what, when she comes to me, she gets loved up. I never want returning to me to have a penalty associated with it. Coming back to me always equals Good Dog!
Lately, I’ve been pondering the difference between how I welcome Keiko and how I welcome my writing. Or don’t. Because what I noticed is that I’ve had pretty strict rules on what kind of writing merited a happy-time welcome, and most of my writing didn’t rate.
Practice writing, like doing writing exercises to improve my skills, didn’t. Writing poetry, which I love (haiku, pantoums, sonnets), didn’t rate. Making notes about a story—brainstorming, mind-mapping, and the like—did not count. Journal writing, morning pages, writing down my dreams, proprioceptive writing and the like absolutely didn’t qualify for welcoming wahoos.
I even realized that, on some deep level, I was dismissing the writing I’m doing for this blog. Which completely contradicts the fact that, as noted above, these posts have been building my confidence in writing regularly. It made no sense.
What did merit a warm reception according to my inner writing assessor? Writing that was moving a story along. That was it.
Which pretty much made me a writing-welcome Scrooge. Seriously, for the past few weeks, though I have written every day, by my past measuring stick, none of it counted. None.
Not very reinforcing. To me. Or to my writing.
I’ve instituted a new tack: All writing gets a happy-time welcome. And I mean full-on red carpet treatment.
This morning, I wrote down a dream. Oh, you sweet little dream. Look at you go! I brainstormed what I wanted to write about in this post. Brainie-wainies, stormy-warmies! You're so cute! Some new ideas surfaced for the story I’m blooming, and I stopped to write them down. What good girls you are, you sweet story ideas. Thank you so much for coming! And, of course, I am typing away on this post. Mwah! Mwah! Mwah! XOXOXOXOXO!
The previous paragraph does have a silliness to it. But for me, it’s a profound silliness. I want to reinforce my writing. Reinforce myself for showing up to write. And I finally see that a fundamental way of doing that is to be welcoming to any writing I do: be it noting in my journal an image that catches my eye, trying a writing prompt from a book, or generating pages on a new novel.
It all counts, keeping me in writing practice, keeping me in writing play. Sweet!
You, of course, are most (wahoo) welcome to join the fun. To boldly choose (if you are not already doing so) to gloriously welcome all your writing.
Red carpet away, my friend. Your writing life will be more joyous for the change. Mine certainly is.
The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week