Beginning with Bunnies: The theory side

As mentioned previously mentioned, I’m making spending time with my bunnies easy and a great excuse to learn how to write non-fiction. Here, I’m going to attempt to explain the idea behind the process, and the reasons behind what I’m doing.

Firstly, I want to discuss the reasons I’m using the type of training I’m using. All learning theories can be simplified to two basics structures. Classical and Operant Conditioning. I’ll try to keep this simple, but I do have a tendency to get excited and used jargon.

So, what are the basics?

Classical Conditioning is also often referred to as Pavlovian Conditioning, or told through the story of Pavlov’s Dog. This is because while researching what happens in the dog’s digestive system, Pavlov realised that when the bell rang to start the tests, the dogs would start salivating. Normally, this would only happen if the dog had food and was eating it. What had changed?

The bell signalled the start of the tests, so we’ll call that the Conditioned Stimulus.

The food came out after the bell. The food is the Unconditioned Stimulus, because it causes the thing to happen without needing to be told.

The salivating is the response. In this case, the Unconditioned Response.

So, if you have the Conditioned Stimulus happen right before the Unconditioned Stimulus, it means that it becomes something to respond to in and of itself. For example, when Wonderful Boyfriend says ‘I’m going to make carbonara for dinner,’ I will start to feel that combination of sensations you get when you smell something delicious. Now, because I’m a person and have a frontal lobe and all the cool things that come with it, I can have that without having to have the sentence right before the dinner. To begin with , you need to make sure the timing of the Conditioned Stimulus and the Unconditioned Stimulus are really close together and really consistent.

What does that have to do with bunnies? In order to let them know they did the right thing, I’m using the word ‘good’ and then giving them a treat so they get the good feelings from eating delicious things. That way, when I get them to do something I want them to do, I can tell them they did it right and they’ll want to do it again. Which brings us to the other kind of kind of learning model.

Operant Conditioning using a more complicated system that works on the combination of two pairs of terms. One refers to if you’re adding something or taking something away, positive or negative, and if you want to increase or decrease the behaviour, reinforcement or punishment. Now, I want to be really clear. Positive does not equal good, and punishment does not equal bad. Repeat that. Positive is not good, just adding something. Punishment is not bad, just discouraging something. Got it? Great!

Clicker training, or any other named positive reinforcement technique, relies on adding something to make the behaviour happen more often. I want Dusty to come to his name, I call him and when he looks at me I give him a treat. As he gets that idea, we can move up to expecting him to take a step towards me before he gets the treat. That’s called taking square one with you, and if we ever lose a bit of it then we can go back a step so he can get the answer and we can make it make sense.

Negative reinforcement is taking something away to make a behaviour happen more. This is what I predominantly use in horse training. The trainer whose method I’m currently have great success with can be found here. Check it out. Because the horse is still in control of what makes the stimuli occur, you get a good response that can lead to some pretty interesting and rewarding shifts in thinking. I’m not using this with the bunnies as the primary focus purely because they are more likely to shut down mentally to survive than horses, so keeping them with me and wanting to find answers.

Positive punishment is adding something to make something less likely to happen. A simple example is changing when you do something because of how someone reacts. So, if you’ve ever heard one too many disparaging remarks about your hobby and so stopped talking about it, that’s positive punishment in effect.

Negative punishment is taking something away to make a behaviour happen less. Every time someone takes a toy off a kid who is doing something naughty, that’s negative reinforcement.

When it comes right down to it, all training uses one or both of those two models as a basis. And from there, really it’s just the pretty details.

They bunnies getting some good preparation in for our adventure.

They bunnies getting some good preparation in for our adventure.

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The Ban Explained

If you’ve read my last post, I’ve been banned from writing. Which means it seems pretty rebellious to be writing a blog post, but I was able to negotiate. I’m going to write blog posts to keep my hand in with things like sentence structure and phrasing. I’m going to also use it as a chance to practise finding my writing voice.

In the spirit of writing things that will help me become a more balanced writer, I’m going to be focusing on non-fiction pieces. In order to get some additional benefit from these posts, I’m going to be using them to track things I am doing, skill sets that I’m working to improve.

This post is about getting myself ready, and offering a little bit of a heads-up to those on who read my posts. It’s going to be a bit random from here on in, probably until we hit NaNoWriMo. That is a negotiation in progress, because I am very lucky to have a dear friend who is helping me stay accountable to these modified writerly goals. One of the reasons for the ban is because going through a stage of not writing seems to be an integral part of my writing cycle. I’m attempting to make it a positive thing, as opposed to the rather a somewhat negative emotional spiral that it usually becomes.

So, here is a snapshot of things to come.

Book reviews; but as I read them as a writer. I will do my best to avoid spoilers, I promise.

Bunny training updates. I’ve made the decision to start using positive reinforcement training, also known as treat or clicker training, to make it easy to spend time with my bunnies. I’m aiming to have confident, happy bunnies who answer to their names, follow a target, and hopefully harness train them. Big goals, but the small steps will make it happen. And I promise, there will be pictures.

Hobby projects. I crochet, tat, and am working on picking up new hobbies all the time. I’ll be writing about what I do, what I’m aiming for, and anything I learn along the way. Which means that there are going to be some random sounding posts. They are all connected in my sort of funny logic, I promise.

Horse training. Now, this one is an ongoing project, but it’s going to be on my horsey blog. Which I will cross to, but I’m keeping it separate because I know there is a real chance I can write or talk about that under water. It’s also woefully in need of updates, because Bridget and I are having heaps of fun! Or, I’m having fun and Bridget is humouring me. Still counts though.

You'll be seeing a lot more of these little guys!

You’ll be seeing a lot more of these little guys!

And now the plan is written out. And it’s on! If I’m doing really well, there might even be some pre-NaNoWriMo planning I pop up to keep them straight and give me some more accountability.

Banned: A Counter-Intuitive writing strategy

I am currently under a self-imposed, and deliberately enforced by my dear friends, ban on creative writing. Which, paradoxically, is making the whole role of writing in my life a much more comfortable thing.

Expectation was wreaking havoc with my sense of what was okay and what wasn’t in terms of writing in my life. I was creating this space where nothing I did was good enough. Nothing I wrote was of appropriate quality, I couldn’t edit or plan well enough to find and theoretically solve the issues in my many vomit copy manuscripts, I couldn’t come up with ideas that were good enough to write at all. This list turned out to be a long, stinging indictment of my sense of self-efficacy. And where the writing list stopped, the other imagined failings continued.  Turns out I don’t deal well with a lack of sleep or time to dwell on things…

That left me feeling pretty dejected, and made writing seem like it was the last thing I wanted to do. Not surprising, when you consider just how much pressure I had managed to put on myself over it. Which was when I found this ripper of a blog that said you don’t have to write, and I realised I was thinking about this from entirely the wrong perspective. Now, I can’t find the freaking thing, but I will add the link when I locate it again, promise.

I thought I was doing the thing where what I wrote would be something I would edit, then rework until it was up to standard to give to beta readers. From there, once I had done more rewrites that I can imagine at this point, surely I would submit it to publishers and get my first deafening silence of internet age rejections. Those I could collect like badges, proof that I had tried to do the thing where you transition from a writer to an author.

The problem was, and would have been painfully still, I have no desire right now to string words together and create a story. I don’t even have the motivation at the moment to try and work out how to fix the rather impressive plot and planning holes I have in my vomit copy stories. Being a pantser has it’s draw backs.

And that’s perfectly okay.

At the moment, I have other things to focus on, and those things take the majority of my emotional and mental energy. In fact, because one of them is making sure I’m taking a particular medication to combat a pesky pain condition, I need to be devoting time to making sure I take really good care of myself. That means giving myself permission to be exhausted after work, and understanding when my brain works in odd ways.

I’m taking expectation, and I’m popping it into the Nano Lodge with my Inner Editor, and the various other Shoulds that live to make me feel uneasy. Check out Chris Baty‘s No Plot? No Problem! for a great explanation of that if you’re new to it. I’m also applying the principle from a horse trainer I am following; Make the right thing easy, make the wrong thing hard.

The right thing is recognising small steps, accepting my limits, and being kind to myself. So I’m banned from the kind of writing that makes me feel terrible. The only thing I’m expected to do with my horse is braid her mane. I don’t have any hobby projects with a deadline. I reward myself for doing the little things to increase exercise in my daily life.

It’s been a week, and I’m feeling better enough to write this post. I call that a step in the right direction.

I don't even have to braid well, just braid. Bridget is a very tolerant horse.

I don’t even have to braid well, just braid. Bridget is a very tolerant horse.