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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pavlov=Smart, Genius Guy

You remember Pavlov, right? He's the scientist that trained the dog to associate the sound of a bell with food, so that whenever the dog would hear the bell, it would salivate?

What does this have to do with writing, you ask?

Well, I'm glad you asked.

I have been teaching again for the past couple of weeks. Getting back into the routine is always a little hard. My writer-brain vs my teacher-brain and all that. I find myself asking, "But when do I get to write?"

When I teach a writing lesson, we always start with a warm-up. I learned this technique from a workshop I went to years ago taught by a guy named John (or maybe Jim.....sorry) from New Hampshire (where lots of cool stuff in terms of the teaching of writing happens). Anyway, I don't give a prompt. Kids just pull out their writing books and write for seven minutes. The goal is to write seven lines in seven minutes. We are not going for perfect, here. We are going for, "Hey, brain, wake up! Start thinking like a writer! Start putting your ideas into written words."

When we warm up, we always warm up to music*. There's a lot to be said for white noise, blocking out the sneezing, pencil breaking, paper noise, feet shuffling, etc. I play the same piece of music each time we write.

I have done this for 10 years.

What has happened for the students is that after a few weeks of this, they are trained that when they hear the music, they just put pencil to paper and let the ideas come. Imagine the kids I have worked with for a few years.....?????? Yep. I come in the first day, play the music and they are writing animals! Writing machines!

Now, imagine what it does for the writing teacher, who completes (with the students) every assignment she asks of them.....including warm-ups..........Yep! I was a writing animal, too! The music came on and at once, I was bombarded with new, coo-el ideas and began writing freely, without angst, without worry about when I was really going to get to write. Those seven minutes, though short, were bliss.

Seven minutes isn't much, but when you are a busy mom-teacher-writer-wife-person, you take what you can get.This is my dog, Mikey, who salivates when he hears cheese being unwrapped.

Every writing moment is precious.

Any strange writing rituals that make it easier for you to write?

*The music, if you are wondering, comes from my Riverdance CD. We listen to track 3, the Countess Cathleen/Women of the Sidhe, then move into track 4, the lament of Cu Chulainn. It's weird because usually I find music too distracting to write to.........



Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I was hoping you would say what music you use! Thanks. I find some music puts me in the 'write' trance and some distracts. I've used Celtic music and some Van Morrison songs with great success. I'm always interested when authors list a soundtrack of songs they listened to while writing. Charles de Lint does this a lot.
Really like this post.

Lazy Writer said...

I think it's great you do all the assignments with your students. Music is very inspiring to me. I did a post about it this week actually.

Stephanie Faris said...

My writing ritual...I figure up how much time I have to write. I set a goal...usually 2 pages per hour (small as that sounds!). At the top of each hour, my butt must be in chair writing until I get to the end of those 2 pages. Then I can get up and do laundry or goof off on the 'net, whatever. At the top of the next hour, it's back in chair for the next two hours.

Seems to work pretty well for me. I have to motivate myself!

Anne Spollen said...

I put on this Celtic Woman CD when I want to write paranormal. I listen to it, then write. I can't listen to it while I'm writing (b/c I stop and listen and use up all my writing time that way)

All the best teachers do the writing assignments with their students. I remember that from colelge.

MG Higgins said...

I've never tried finding writing inspiration from music, but I love the effect it has on your students (and you!). I might try it. For me, I first read a bit from an earlier part of my story--can be anywhere--just to get the main character's voice in my head; then I'm off and running.

Dawn VanderMeer said...

What a great teacher you are! I, too, find music to be very inspirational, but I don't write with it on. Certain songs put me in the mood to write specific characters so I have my own unofficial soundtracks for my manuscripts.

storyqueen said...

Tricia-I find Celtic music the easiest to write to....other music just distracts me too much.

Lazy-I read your post and I couldn't think of music I like to write to until I got into classrooms with my little laptop and opened Windows Media Player and pressed play. Funny how we block out things.....

Steph-Man, you are disciplined!

Anne-Celtic Woman is great! And I could tell you that writing with the kids makes me a better teacher....but that's only half of the truth. Really, it makes me a better writer, too.

MC- When you are rereading to get your creative juices flowing, do you ever find stuff that totally surprises you? Stuff that you have absolutely no memory of having written?

Dawn-I love the idea of unofficial soundtracks!

MG Higgins said...

In answer to your question, I DO sometimes find things I don't remember writing! It can be a pleasant, (or not so pleasant) surprise. :)

Corey Schwartz said...

Wow! I have never written to music. Maybe I should try it? God knows, nothing else is working at the moment.

Your students are SO lucky to have you, Shelley!

storyqueen said...

M.C.- Me too! (Usually it's better, though. I seem to forget about the good stuff and only remember the stuff I'm not happy with.)

Corey-You're so sweet. Actually, it's more that I'm so lucky to have them.

Carrie Harris said...

I would like to write to music, but I end up dancing around like an idiot. So I'm actually prompted to write when I turn OFF the music.

Amy Tate said...

I love to write when the house is empty. I have to be able to talk to myself. If I'm not alone, then someone answers me. ugh!
I received your glorious book today, and I LOVE it!!!!! Thank you so much!!!!! I read it to my daughter (she's five) and she stole it. Now how am I going to get it away from her? I told my sister that I would send it to Hamilton! The dragons are adorable. Caroline's favorite part is when they swing on the chandlier. She giggled all through that part.

Linda said...

I sometimes drive to a lovely park nearby, climb into the back seat and spend an hour or so inside a bubble that lets me block out everything. No cell phone, of course.

storyqueen said...

Carrie-if I just sold my book, I'd be dancing around like an idiot, too!!

Amy-I'm so glad you like the book!

Linda-I am pretty good at creating a bubble in many places, but I have a hard time writing in a car!

Paige Keiser said...

I write and draw best at night and when my studio is messy. I have no idea why that is. When I clean it, it's like I've swept away my inspiration, and that horrible, perfectly neat and tidy desk glares at me. I stare back like a deer in headlights.

I also like to listen to Rufus Wainwright. Something about that music helps me escape into whatever world I'm creating at the moment.