Tag Archives: reinforcers

The fun of watching live readers

chinchilla sitting on a hand

Gizzy – silent reader?


I am very, very honored lately by a phenomenon I had noticed, but not paid particular attention to, until I finished writing Book 1 of Pride’s Children: watching someone get hooked on my writing.

It starts on here or on Wattpad. I notice my stats go up – I’m getting more views than normal, and the list of posts visited on my blog takes on a pattern.

Here on the blog, I notice the sequence of chapters and scenes, one right after another.

On Wattpad (where I had been posting a scene twice a week), because of time constraints (it takes time to format and post a scene), I have a notice after Chapter 14, Scene 7:

If you like Pride’s Children, the whole story is up on my blog – link. Please tell me if it is inconvenient for you as a reader to switch to my blog, and I’ll reconsider posting the remainder here on Wattpad.

The special position of serials and live writing

So a reader knows I haven’t abandoned the story.

Every reader of a live serial knows that there is always a possibility the author won’t finish.

That gut feeling is balanced by knowing the work is available as soon as possible. It’s a trade-off. Many people, burned once too many times, refuse to read until the serial is finished. I don’t blame them – I’ve started reading several, only to find the author has other things to do, for whatever reason, and stopped, for now or for good, before I could finish reading.

Live writing (okay, I thought I had enough of a buffer. Hehe) was MY choice.

Readers owe writers nothing; writers owe readers…?

Until a book is published and available for sale, writers owe readers nothing. George RR Martin doesn’t ‘owe’ his readers the rest of his saga, even though they (Geek and Sundry on Youtube, Write, George, write like the wind) seem to think so, and are especially persuasive.

Writers have no more control over the real world than anyone else.

Even popular writers may find a publisher 1) having the rights to the rest of the books in a series, and 2) refusing to execute those rights. Ouch!

If you know only half the readers you need to survive will buy the next book, you may end up abandoning those readers.

What does the reader owe the writer?

Absolutely nothing.

There is, especially right now and for this book, no ‘contract with the reader’ made by anyone who chooses to read a few words of the story.


I, the writer, hoped to heck I’d get to this point, promised MYSELF I’d get to this point, have promised MYSELF I’ll get to Book 3 and write The End.

But readers have not made ANY promises to ME, implied or explicit. Nor should they.

Context: finishing Book 1 of Pride’s Children

But, until I had actually finished (even if there are two more books planned, plotted, outlined to the last detail, and in rough draft form), I might have been on that same list of author interruptus. For all I knew, as I slogged along for all those years, I might be incapable of finishing.

Or force majeur might have kept me from finishing. Things HAPPEN.

The pleasure of the through reader staring on the blog

But now that I AM done, I get to enjoy my readers more.

It warms the cockles of my heart.

The pattern starts showing: I may not catch the beginning, or a reader may have been here all along, reading weekly, but now the Scene pages get viewed in succession over a day or two, until I get another hit on Chapter 20, Scene 6 (End of Book 1).

Whew. Another one made it safely to To Be Continued.

The pleasure of the Wattpad reader

I notice a different pattern: if it is a Wattpadder, Chapter 14, Scene 8 shows up on my list of views, and I know ONE more reader there has made the leap, clicked on my link, and done the hard part: moving to a new venue.

Since Wattpadders read on mobiles, this requires effort. It also usually means they read the first almost-14 chapters on Wattpad – which is a kick all by itself: I am not a undemanding writer.

The through reader is better than chocolate

These readers tend not to skip or skim. If they read at all, they get immersed (several have been wonderful enough to let me know).

It is an honor to be taken seriously like that.

I DON’T NEED ANY REACTION TO BE HAPPY: seeing the pattern complete makes me squee.

The reader who makes it through silently, like my chinchilla Gizzy (if she read), is welcome.

One in ten or so takes the additional step of letting me know what their reaction is, and those comments and emails are balm to the twitchy writer’s soul while doing all these OTHER tasks necessary to make a book salable.

My request of the through reader is different

EVERY response that comes, even simply reading to the end, is welcome. Readers owe me nothing. I repeat: nothing. I grew up in the time when you didn’t even realize the writer might still be alive!

Additional possible reactions: Like. (Or vote on Wattpad.) Eventually, consider buying (though they’ve already read the story, so at this point I don’t anticipate that). If Book 1 is for sale, a review on Amazon will be welcome (I promise I’ll put a link out when that’s true, and I’m trying my darndest to make it happen asap).

But MY preferred form of response, whatever else you do, Gentle Through Reader, is that you take a moment, think very hard, and see if there is ONE person you would recommend Pride’s Children, Book 1, to (dangling preposition and all) – and get them started on Chapter 1.

If you’ve done that – and that explains why I’m getting more through readers – my humble thanks to you.

And if you read the whole thing, your vote on the prologue – keep, rewrite, delete – is welcome any time, too.

Plus, of course, we’re always open for comments.

READERS: the drug of choice

Yesterday someone left a trace on my blog: he or she read ALL of Pride’s Children posted to date, and a huge number of my other posts.

I am on top of the world. Squee!

Even though my mystery guest left no comments. Continue reading

Freedom to write means responsibility

I realized a week ago that I am just as weak – and as strong – as I have been for a long time. Getting a bit more energy to function because of a fortuitous connection to an experiment with vitamin B1 (thiamine), the effort I’m making to walk properly again (to be blogged about eventually), doing a lot more posts during Web Serial Writing Month, and various interruptions from Life have been masking a fact I didn’t want to face: writing is hard work.

Me writing fiction is a delicate thing, easily destroyed, because I have CFS and because writing must have the best me I can manage, which means doing just about everything right: sleep, eating, exercise – and creating a routine which works for me and includes blocking the Internet until I’ve written as much as I can that day.

BTW – today is August 32, 2013.* Continue reading

Behavior modification for writers: reinforcing desirable behavior – Part 1

Writers are human. ALL of our functioning as living beings is controlled (exquisitely, except for weight – and more on that in a later post) by autonomous process: things that happen without our voluntary control. Digestion. BREATHING. Blood circulation. Walking (most of the time). VISION and all the senses. We wouldn’t survive if more than 99% of our behavior were not on automatic pilot.

To understand and explain inexplicable BEHAVIOR, you first have to know that, in most areas, humans (including writers) operate under the same laws as chinchillas.

Just looking at procrastination and writer’s block (mythological or not) we ask: Why do I surf the web instead of writing? Why is ‘one more piece of research’ so appealing? Why do all the superstitious behaviors writers engage in – target word count, deadlines, quitting in the middle of a line so as to come back and have an easier start, wearing the same hat – work, but only part of the time?

Why don’t we do what we claim we want to do, which is to write the current, top-priority, A+ work-in-progress (WIP)?

Even more important than these questions is: What do we do about it?

The main difference between us and chinchillas is that we can learn what these laws of behavior are, examine how they affect the things we WANT to do, such as writing, and learn to change our behavior.

Writers in particular – because we do it all on paper, and there is a record to be reread and shared – can learn these dangerous rules, understand them, and even, in some cases, take huge advantage of the built-in system.

In perplexity at some of my own behavior, I dragged out a book I’ve had for a very long time – and highly recommend – Don’t Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor. My current copy is the revised edition, from 1999 (I had the original 1984 edition but gave it to someone who needed it more (I thought) and never got it back). The basics haven’t changed, but the revised edition has extras. It is subtitled: The New Art of Teaching and Training.

None of these ideas are new any more. Many of them came from the work of B. F. Skinner and other students of animal behavior. Karen Pryor expresses them clearly and readably for the general public, and generously uses examples from her work and her life – I urge you to read her books, and visit her website, clickertraining.com.

Caveats: What follows in these blog posts will be my understanding, applied to myself. I am not an expert – and will probably get some of it wrong. On the other hand, I have a long history of (bad) writer behavior, and am in some ways an ideal subject.

I’d like to start with one of the basics: REINFORCING DESIRABLE BEHAVIOR.

Desired behavior for a writer should be an easy list: getting ‘butt in chair’, not surfing the web nor playing games, turning completed work in on time, starting work promptly, sending work out. These behaviors have a huge emotional component for most writers, much of it negative. Otherwise why would it be so hard to sit down and work, and why do many writers practically chain themselves to their desks? If writing is such a positive activity (as writers claim, at least part of the time), why do we have such a hard time doing it? A program such as Freedom, which blocks the internet access on my Mac for as many minutes as I set it up for, shouldn’t be necessary if I’m enjoying myself, right? I don’t have to be persuaded much to jump in a pool, or go to a movie, or get ice cream. To overcome the baggage, from procrastination to outright fear and loathing, the behavior needs to be reinforced.

[If you’re in the category of someone whose writing is always self-reinforcing because it is so pleasant and easy and fun, please stop reading right now: you don’t need this.]

Pryor defines a reinforcer as something that occurs at the same time as a behavior, and increases the probability of that behavior recurring. She notes that behavior must already be occurring, however sporadically, or it can’t be reinforced. This is not quite as obvious as it sounds, but a writing example would be that you can’t reinforce ‘submitting written work’ if it never happens – you can only promise yourself a reward if you submit, which Pryor categorizes as bribery, not reinforcement (it may or may not work, but it isn’t reinforcement). Thus, if a writer ever sits down to write, that behavior can be increased. Opening a new blank document is a behavior, as is typing ‘new text’ into that document; both behaviors can be increased by appropriate reinforcement.

Let’s use approbation as a reinforcer for now, leaving for a later post exactly what kind of reinforcers work for writers, and which are positive and which negative. Let’s just say that if your SO, a reader, [your agent, editor, or publisher if you have them], or a good friend told you how wonderful each sentence you wrote was, the instant you added the final period, it wouldn’t be that hard to write.

So you CAN write – you just haven’t found the right reinforcer! And what reinforcers you are using may not be applied properly – it is both critical and tricky to get the reinforcer TIMING just right.

To summarize for this step: to reinforce a desirable behavior (defined as increasing the occurrence of the desirable behavior) you have to have 1) the behavior already occurring, at least occasionally; 2) the right reinforcer for the subject (the writer); and 3) the reinforcer must be applied at the correct time, which is as close as physically possible to the time when the behavior occurs.

More on each concept, and how it might be applied to writing, in later posts.

Some of the upcoming topics I will investigate for myself are:

Timing of reinforcements
How to train a writer    Stimulus control: what is it, what works, and what doesn’t    What is discipline?
Behavior chains – and how to use them to my advantage
Reinforcements and rewards for writers
4 positive and 4 negative methods of using reinforcement to get rid of behavior you don’t want
The pernicious long-schedule intermittent variable reinforcer – the most powerful and insidious reinforcer of desirable behavior

Ignore the rules at your peril: they will still apply – Pryor calls them as immutable as the laws of physics – and you won’t even know what bit you.