Tuesday, January 5, 2010
How Pavlov's Dog Can Help You Get Big Things Done
I have completed a novel.
Five years ago, I would have told you that I would never be able to write that sentence. Though I was very good at helping others to overcome their writing and creativity blocks, I did not seem to be able to take my own advice.
Of course, I was writing all sorts of stuff on a regular basis, but the Great Almighty Novel teased me like a Giant Carrot gleaming in a dewy field before a small and hungry rabbit.
I was full of ideas. I had scraps of paper all over the place with titles, character names, two sentence plot descriptions. I had a couple of first chapters that never went anywhere.
One day, not long after Marcy had gotten me a manual 1969 Olivetti Valentine typewriter, I was walking back from the bus stop, and out of the blue, the first few sentences of a novel came to mind. As I walked, I kept repeating the sentences like a mantra. Each time, I knew there was more coming. I walked fast.
I got home and sat down at that typewriter and produced the first chapter.
I was so afraid of what I had done.
I had moved from idea to Real Work, and I wasn't sure that I could sustain this. I had tried and failed so many times before.
Yet the voice of the narrator was strong and I knew what the next chapter would be about and soon I knew what the one following that would be about.
The next day, I sat down to write chapter two. I had notes. I had my typewriter.
Then I accidentally came upon just the magic that I needed.
I slipped in the CD of the soundtrack from the movie Frida.
This music is perfect, because though there are words, they are in Spanish and I don't speak Spanish. (Shame on me.)
After typing for a wee bit, the music receded and I didn't realize that the CD stopped.
I listened to that same CD for the entire time that I wrote that book.
Every time I sat down at that typewriter (or at the computer when I would do the second drafts), I put in that CD, and those first lilting bars of music would send my fingers across the keys.
I told people, "I have Pavlov-Dogged myself."
And I had.
It wasn't just the music, though. It was also that typewriter.
The feel of the keys. The sound of the keys. The way I had to get stronger pinkies to use the keys. The smell of the ink on the ribbon. The winding of the ribbon when it got to the end. The pulling of the paper from the carriage and the piling of it to my right, seeing that pile get higher and higher.
None of this sensual experience of writing happens when we work directly on the computer.
I have used this same technique with working out and dance.
When I first started taking myself seriously as a dancer again, I knew there would be days when I "wouldn't want to" (whine whine whine), and so I used the same few songs every time I started different workouts.
And yes, those Whine filled days come, but all I have to do is get myself to the iPod. If I can do that, I know my body will take over once the music hits me.
It works every time.
Most days, I want to do what I do because it's...what I do, and on most days, I don't have to treat myself like a dog. But I am thankful that on the difficult days, I am a well trained dog.
What kind of rituals have you used to get big, impossible-seeming dreams accomplished? How do you get yourself drooling?