Six New Tricks Your Dog Can Teach You About Writing

Fans of the PloughsharesWriters and Their Pets” series have probably noticed the majority of those blogs are about writers and their dogs. In my view this is because dogs are the best writing companions. For one thing, they never ask, “What’re you working on? or “Aren’t you done yet?” or “Why don’t you just write books like [insert any best-selling author name here]?” Cats may not ask these questions out loud, but their faces say it all. Makes you wonder how on earth Hemingway managed. More importantly, however, dogs are also terrific writing teachers. Below I’ll illustrate why, with the help of one of my current canine companions, Sadie.

snack1. Go with your gut.

As Karen Shepard so aptly illustrates in this poem from Amy Hempel and Jim Shepard’s Unleashed: Poems by Writer’s Dogs, dogs are often driven by an overwhelming and indiscriminate appetite:

 

Birch

You gonna eat that?
You gonna eat that?
You gonna eat that?

I’ll eat that.

Dogs take it all in, and if it doesn’t set right, they throw it back up, feel sad for a minute, then move on.  Or they throw it up, take a sniff, and give it another go. Writers can learn from this.

belly2. Be vulnerable.

Anyone can bark; the best writing happens when you let a little fear in. And who knows, you might even get a belly rub.

3. Simplify.

Despite that crazy smart Border Collie, Betsy, featured in National Geographic because her vocabulary is over 300 words, most dogs prefer their prose short and to the point. I can talk a blue streak to Sadie all day long—she is a patient listener—but what really gets her tail wagging is when I’m specific and direct. “Sadie, sit.” “Sadie, go play.” Be spare; it will serve you well.

photo4. Be nosy.

Getting into other people’s business could lead to trouble, but doesn’t trouble usually lead to great writing? And isn’t nosiness just the same as being a good listener? As already mentioned, dogs are superb listeners and they don’t ask too many questions. Most people are begging to give their stories away—at bus stops and in coffee shops and on line for the bathroom in bars—so a sympathetic and nonjudgmental ear will earn you wondrous riches in plot, dialogue, and character galore.

Sadie and Tucker, taking a break.

Sadie and Tucker, taking a break.

5. Nap. 

For goodness’ sake, take a break. Give your plot time to gestate. Give your inner thesaurus space to stretch.

6. Get outside.

Walks are just as essential as napping. You will return from your jaunt refreshed and ready to get back to business.

So there you have it. While these tips are no substitute for the number one essential component to good writing (just parking yourself in the chair and picking up the pencil), this should help you on your way. Sadie guarantees it.

Might we be so bold as to suggest that you subscribe to Ploughshares?

About Kate Flaherty

Kate Flaherty is a writer and teacher based in New England. Her stories and essays primarily revolve around awkwardness, angst, and the pursuit of the perfect playlist. Work has appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. Other writing and ranting can be found on her blog at www.kateflaherty.wordpress.com
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2 Responses to Six New Tricks Your Dog Can Teach You About Writing

  1. Pingback: Best of the Looks, Best of the Books 1/17/14 | Looks & Books

  2. Pingback: What Your Dog Can Teach You About Writing | Fact or Fiction

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