Tuesday, February 25, 2014

6 Writing Lessons From Dogs

Comparing the dogs I've had reminds me of how different we writers are. Our goal is the same—craft stories that readers love—but how we reach that goal varies wildly.

I think we all know how smart dogs are and what great examples they offer about how to live. So let's look at a few lessons we can learn from them about how to be better writers:

1. Get out and play, but don't get lost
I will not leave your sight, human.
Some writers are like my last dog, Lacey. I could walk her without a leash, because she was never going to stray from the path. (She'd been a street dog, so maybe she was over the need to wander). But, she didn't know how to play. I tried introducing her to different toys, only to be met with blank stares. If Lacey were a writer, she'd outline every detail of a novel before starting the draft, and she'd stick to that outline until “The End.” She'd also miss out on some fun discoveries she might have come across if she allowed herself to explore new paths.

I'm a writer more like my current dog, Holly. She's the same breed as Lacey, but they couldn't be more different. Holly's an escape artist, always looking for a chance to take off and run free. If I let her off the leash, I have no idea where she'd end up, and neither does she. And she sure can play.
Yes, I do need all the toys out at once

When I first took her to a dog park, I thought she'd take off like a greyhound as soon as she was off the leash. To my surprise, she wandered around the park, played in a mud puddle, then came back and sat next to me when she was ready to go. The fence provided just enough of a boundary that allowed her to explore and have fun without getting lost.
Wait, I see a puddle I missed

I also enjoy long walks
on the beach, as long as
I can see my people
Spike, the bulldog I grew up with, struck the right balance. He'd play soccer with us in the front yard, but he wasn't going to stray from home.

I'm not at all an outliner; I love seeing the story unfold as I write it. When writing CHAINED, I stumbled across some of my favorite plot points while researching or brainstorming new scenes. But, I can get lost if I have no structure. One reason the book took me so long to write is that I had no idea what was going to happen from one chapter to the next (and I'm easily distracted). Now when I write, I plan a few turning points. I still have the freedom to explore and discover the story as I go, but the stepping stones keep me from ending up lost in the wilderness.

2. Treat yourself
Find your own bacon bone
This is pretty self-explanatory, right? Anyone with a dog knows how much they enjoy their treats. It's a lot of work to get a book written, and finding ways to celebrate the small successes along the way can help us stay motivated. When you finish an especially difficult chapter, knock out a first draft, or finally hit "send" on a manuscript, treat yourself to a cupcake, a movie, or even a bone made of bacon if that's what you're into.

3. Form a pack
Dogs know the importance of traveling in packs. The wisest thing I did as a new writer was acknowledge that I couldn't succeed alone. My extended group of writer friends celebrates the successes of each member and offers support through the tough times.
As authors, we have the unique opportunity to let our readers know that they, too, are not alone. Reading is a solitary activity, yet stories make us feel less isolated. In the right story, we find our pack.

4. Do a little dance when your family comes home
Okay, maybe you don't have to dance, but at least look up from your work and say hi. I don't know what dogs are doing while we're out. For some reason Holly likes to Houdini her way into the garage as soon as I step out. For all I know she's building a flying car out there, but whether I've been at work all day or I've just stepped out to check the mail, she runs to the door to greet me and then does a few victory laps around the house when I get back. We won't be around forever, so it's nice to let our people know we're happy we're together for now.

5. Enjoy the moment
There's a lot about writing and publishing that we can't control. The story we're working on might not sell, and even if it does, some people won't like it. The only thing we can do is write the best book possible. And let's remember to enjoy the process along the way. There's a reason you started writing. Even though we have our struggles, we get some joy out of it too.
Dogs are great at living in the moment. Throw them a stick and they're not worried about what happened yesterday or what they're going to do tomorrow. They're just going to chase the stick for now. Holly had been neglected and was in pretty bad shape when she was turned in to a shelter last year, but as far as I can tell she's put that all behind her and seizes every opportunity to run around with a squeaky football.

6. After your hard work, get some rest
I know, you have more words to write today, but remember to take care of yourself. Your brain won't work as well if you're exhausted.
Stop and take breaks, and get plenty of sleep. Those squirrels aren't going to chase themselves, and you'll need your energy.

Yes, this is an acceptable mentor

Any other ideas, dog people? What else can writers learn from dogs?


  1. There's nothing like a dog for inspiration to be in the moment...YES.

    1. If I ever win the lottery I'm getting a dog ranch/writers' retreat.