Pavlovian Triggers

When I want to work, when I really need to get things done and words on the page, I put on the soundtrack to the Charlie Brown Christmas special. At the sound of the big fat opening chords of “Christmastime is Here,” the words flow out of my fingers like water from a sponge.

It’s Pavlovian; akin to carefully cultivated muscle memory in an athlete. Now, my faith that it will work plays more than a little into its success. Like Dumbo with his feather, I clutch my Vince Guaraldi trusting that he’ll get me through when nothing else is.

If this seems illogical to you, well, you’d be right. It’s the result of too many years of writing papers like a maniac in late November and early December with Christmas music in the background. It’s also evidence of my feast or famine writing style, where for months at a time the work won’t come, until the flood gates open and a first draft appears.

I’m writing these days. A lot. Fiction and academic essays. So this week’s blog will be short, but a few more of the songs that get me working when everything else fails are below the fold.

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6 thoughts on “Pavlovian Triggers

  1. I love that Charlie Brown Christmas special & play it incessantly starting around mid-November. I don’t write to music, need absolute silence for anything to actually be written, but I do some great thinking listening to music in the car on the morning commute. I mainly listen to folk music, though my latest obsession is Camera Obscura, a Glaswegian band that is terrific, Classical too … and all kinds of church choirs and chant. They get the ideas flowing. Hope yours are a full river today!

    • I’ve been listening to Camera Obscura on Spotify during lunch. “French Navy” is a terrific song. Have you heard the Stars? They’re Canadian and one of my long-time loves.

      • I saw Camera Obscura live this summer!!! … their new CD, DESIRE LINES, is more subdued than their other stuff, but it resonates for me. Canadian … and I don’t know them, shame on me :0 Will definitely rectify that: thank you! On this morning’s constitutional, I listened to The Civil Wars and Patty Griffin, an new fave and a long-time one. Happy Day to you!

  2. Oh, conditioning! I love conditioning. (Not in a weird way, in a purely scientific way.) I could totally geek out on conditioning, but I won’t. :)
    I do something similar, but not with music. I use the iPad for new words, and the laptop for editing. It helps me get into those different writing mindsets. I can’t really listen to music anymore when I’m writing, because I like to use headphones, which would be a recipe for disaster around here.

    • Ooh, that’s a really good idea. Back when I had an office and a desktop, I had certain kinds of work I did on the laptop and certain kinds on the desktop. I’d like to set it up again and just use it for writing. Someday.

      Sometimes I do turn off the music when I’m writing. I can’t edit while listening to stuff with lyrics, so that’s always silence or classical (Vivaldi, Handel, Bach: the rage for order they have helps me out). But each writing project has a playlist (I put my favorites on the books’ inspiration boards) and certain songs always cue the mood for me.

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