When I’m not writing, a good chunk of time is spent training our dogs, two Pembroke Welsh Corgis. They are (most of the time) good little pups, who compete in American Kennel Club sanctioned Obedience and Rally trials. Writing and dog training are more connected than I first thought and there are five principles that apply to both.
Sit – Stay
A dog must learn to sit and stay on command, no matter what distractions lurk in the background. A writer, any writer, must also learn to sit and stay, ignoring the distractions of twitter, Facebook, or whatever prevents words from going onto that blank page. Drafting, writing and revising a novel length manuscript take patience and the learned skill of sit – stay (at the keyboard).
A Tight Leash is Never Good
When you’re handling a dog in an Obedience exercise, or through a Rally course, a tight leash will get you disqualified. If you have to literally drag your dog through the course, the dog gets frustrated, you get pissed and bad things happen. The tight leash means you haven’t trained enough to trust the dog to do the right thing and your dog doesn’t trust you enough to “lead” them. A writer can’t produce a novel manuscript if they are “holding on too tight.” If the writer is afraid to make a mistake, too concerned about word count and rigid in their adherence to an outline, they too will be disqualified by their readers. Compare your writing when you’re tense and stressed, versus when you let yourself go, outline be damned and let the characters run on a loose leash.
You Don’t Get a Dog Cookie Every Time
Go in Circles
In the Rally ring you and your dog have to negotiate tight turns, change pace and direction on a dime without tripping. These skills equally apply to drafting a novel. Whether you outline, or draft in a blinding stream of consciousness, the writer must be able to shift direction nimbly, weave through a complex maze of plot twists and clues to guide the reader through your story without falling flat on your face.
You Get Out What You Put In
With regular practice, discipline and patience, you and your dog can learn to perform when needed. You know the skills, your dog is familiar with them and when it’s time to perform, there is little doubt of the outcome. As a writer, it is easy to get complacent, lazy or frustrated. With continued practice, you expect more from yourself and you don’t settle for less. You’ve put in the work, you’ve set your expectations, the outcome of that novel manuscript will reflect what you’ve put into the process.
Good Dog! Good Writer!