One concept that comes up A LOT on blogs, Twitter feeds, and in craft-related articles is our environment and the habits we keep. Some people insist we must write every day, at the same time, in the same place to build a good habit, while others prefer a more flexible approach.
A stimulus is just anything in the environment (external or internal) that will trigger a response. Sometimes the response is automatic and unconscious, but it can also be voluntary.
Stimulus Control is the idea that a particular behavior will happen in response to specific stimuli. So, the simplest one we can all relate to is the good old-fashioned stop sign. We have well-ingrained responses to that big red octagon. If it’s present, we stop, if not, we keep going. Of course we stop at other times too: for red lights, for a crossing family of geese, because we just noticed a donut shop we can’t pass up. You get it.
Some behaviors only occur in response to a particular stimulus, but most of the time, behaviors will happen outside that context too. So, that brings me to…
Stimulus Generalizability, when a particular behavior is likely to occur in many contexts and in response to many stimuli. In dog training, a good pet owner will train the dog to sit using one controlled environment to start. But, in order to have a really well-trained dog, she needs the pup to sit in the living room, the kitchen, while walking down the street, at the park, etc. And it’s no good for the dog to only sit if the original trainer gives the command. All members of the household should be able to get the same response. To get there, a trainer will vary the learning environment and stimuli that are present, and viola, she’s got a dog that’s not an asshole in public.
But what does all of this have to do with writing?
Stimulus Control & Writing
Are they right? YES!
By repeatedly pairing the behavior of writing with these stimuli, the writer will come to crave the behavior of writing whenever these stimuli are present. This is why I itch to write first thing every morning. I have my chair, my coffee, and my computer in my lap, and it’s awesome. The days when the world has other plans for me, I miss my writing time and my I don’t feel quite right.
This is good, especially for writers struggling to be productive on a regular basis.
How to harness the power of Stimulus Control in your writing
Watch out for things that will hinder you
Other things that might hinder your progress are interruptions. Kids, husbands, dogs, chores, the phone. All of that can intrude on our designated routine, so be sure to choose a time where you’ll have the least chance of being interrupted.
Five AM on weekdays is perfect for me because I’m the only one up and there ain’t none of my friends awake calling me at that early. And if they did, I’d think they were crazy.
Next time for It’s a Writer Thing, I’ll continue this discussion and talk about the way stimulus control can hinder the productivity of an author. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. Until then, another HUGE thanks to Amber Gregg for welcoming my series on her awesome blog, and of course…
You can do it! You can write!