it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
matociquala

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how writing a book is like training a dog

(or: part umpteen in an occasional series on how writing is like everything else.)

When first you undertake to train a dog, there are a lot of things you can try: dominance, fear, behavioral conditioning. But the most effective technique, in my extensive amateur experience, is that of making the dog want to be trained.

Get him working with you, and you are halfway home already.

And to do that, the very first thing you have to do is establish trust. The dog has to feel safe with you. He has to understand your limits, his limits, the relationship. He has to believe that you will behave in a consistent, predictable, and trustworthy manner. He has to believe you will not hurt or abandon him.

The way to do this is by delivering on your promises, offering consistent rewards for good behavior, and by making your expectations clear.

This is the same way we tame a reader. We lure him in with treats and romps and games of tug-a-war and snuggling on the sofa.

The second phase is attention training, For this phase, we must have come to understand our dog. You see, while we were taming the dog, encouraging him to bond with us, training him to trust--so we were coming to be tamed as well. We know him now; we know his moods and his limits. We know what he loves, and what he does not love.

We know his heart.

For every dog, there will be one ideal reward. It may be food; liver tidbits or pieces of turkey. It may be play; a tennis ball, a squeaky toy. It may be the praise of a voice or a clicker.

It may just be your hand on his neck for an instant.

To earn the dog's attention, we make sure that he knows that, at any time, we could produce that Best Treat. That we have it on us. That it's right here in our hand. And any second, we might give him a reward. We might give him a reward because he's being good and attentive, because he has come perfectly to heel, because he is lazing about by the door watching us with big eyes. There are only two rules: he doesn't get a treat when he's not paying attention, and he doesn't get a treat when he's being bad. Of course, in the process of this, we train the dog to be hyper-aware of us at all times. To be engaged and looking for his reward.

And he trains us. We become aware of the dog. We maintain that awareness always. He is with us, beside us. He's being a good dog. He gets the kind word and the pat. And we learn to be conscious of him.

The dog thinks he's training us. "When I am like this, I would like a treat." And nobody can ever have enough treats, especially if those treats are kind words.

When he is relaxed in our presence, and when we have earned his attention, then we can try some tricks. He'll work harder, because the attention itself has become the reward, because there's a joy in working together to get the job done. You'll work harder, because the dog deserves it, because his work is your reward. He'll be able to follow any course you set for him--always respecting his limits--and you'll be able to use those rewards to motivate him to try harder and harder things.

It's all about trusting each other.

Tags: writing is like everything else
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