Sit For A Biscuit Fido (Training the Inner Writer)

by Chris McMahon

I’ve been trying to get back on the writing horse again after a really crappy period of work, external commitments and  injury (torn ligaments in my knee this time as a result of  a very slippery rock near a waterfall).  As usual my first attempts are to try to go back to the same pace I was maintaining before everything fell over, and as usual the results are proving to be a little inconsistent.

Then I remembered something that the dog trainer said at puppy pre-school (no I’m not kidding, we all went to dog training classes when we bought Kirra, our silky terrier X mini-poodle). We had reached that point in the class where we were demonstrating how well we had established the basic training, such as getting her to sit, stay etc. I was getting her to sit, then moving quite a distance across the room to see how far I could stretch the training in terms of getting her to stay. The trainer said, ‘No. Train for success. Don’t try to push the boundaries or ‘test’ the training. Reinforce the training from the point where you know you will succeed.’

I thought about this a lot at the time, and realised that I always do this to myself. I always establish something that works and immediately try to push the boundaries, to extend what I am doing or add something new. In a way I am always ‘testing’ myself, driving myself.

This little incident in training came back to me this morning as I was scribbling down some thoughts in my journal (I love using pen and paper – seems to provoke a different way of thinking). I realised that I needed to train myself for success. It sounds basic but I needed to gradually re-introduce myself back into the world I was creating, to build back up to the same sort of intensity I had achieved. In essence I had to give myself some ‘writer treats’ – Dog Biscuits for the Hungry Mind – to reward myself and reinforce my success.

How do you reward yourself for staying in the chair? Or is being in your world reward enough?


  1. Excellent post.

    For slush reading, I tend to reward myself with a snarkyer than usual blog post, or a couple glasses of congac…. which i happen to be out of. Must correct that.

      1. Oh, that’s happened a time or six, I just have to either type fast or drink slow so I don’t end up spending more time fixing typos or worse _missing words_ than actually writing the blog.

  2. I use the carrot and stick approach. “If I get up before I’ve written a thousand words, I have to do the dishes. Right then. If I hit 2000 words before lunch, I’ll order out chinese. 5000? We celebrate with chocolate.”

    I regret to say that my dishes get done regularly.

    And yes, the Muse and I get the royal We when we’ve had one of those good days.

    1. Excellent system, Pam. It’s like an accelerator clause in a writing contract, I love the sliding scale.
      Being threatened with the dishes – enough to inspire terror into the toughest of us:)

      1. Once I get the first thousand words out, things seem to start flowing. I did Nanowrimo last year and had several 5K days in a row. But by the end of the month it was down to dishes again. I need to work on how to trigger that first burst of words.

  3. I understand what you’re saying — I haven’t managed to write anything in the month since the accident. The best I’ve managed has been some reasonably productive editing runs through things I already had drafted. The choice between too-much-pain-tothink and too-drugged-up-to-think isn’t helping.

    Normally, the Characters keep me in the chair, and pester me incessantly whenever I’m not paying them the attention they feel they deserve. But that tends to leave lulls when I don’t get much done, if I end up with a week or two when there isn’t a strident Character actively demanding to be let out.

  4. Hi, Stephen. That’s a tough one – there are always times when we really, legitimately cannot write.
    Maybe you should save up your editing tasks for when your characters go quiet? Editing seems to be in a different creative space to first-drafting.
    Hope you get well soon.

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