Writing Lessons from a Dog

We adopted a dog from the pound on Easter Sunday this past spring, a long-awaited event in our family. His name at the shelter was Niner, which we couldn’t change fast enough. Wanting to stick with a similar sounding name because we had misguided notions about confusing him with a new one, we named him Reno. He’s a tall skinny pit bull mix with sad-sack eyes and a winning smile who probably has some kind of bird dog in his genes too.

He hasn’t intentionally taught me anything about writing (he’s a terrible writer, trust me), but I walk and jog him 5 miles a day, which has helped me reconnect with the old habit of musing about story ideas while I exercise. This is an important writing lesson–take advantage of quiet time to think about your story wherever and whenever you can grab it. In the shower, in the car, while waiting for your kids to finish their karate lessons…

Lesson # 2: Live in the moment, at least sometimes. We writers have to live in our heads a lot, but we should make it a practice every single day of spending a good solid chunk of time just paying attention to life and living it. When the dog flops down on his back and insists I rub his belly for the 28th time that day, I really have no choice in the matter but to stop and do his bidding. After all, what else could be more important at that moment? Write the next scene in the book? Maybe, but it can wait a few minutes. Living in the moment can make us better at writing in the moment too–letting a scene unfurl as it happens instead of trying to rush ahead with a lot of telling.

Lesson # 3: Trust your instincts. Animals, especially dogs, are masters of watching people and knowing instinctively what their intentions are. We can be masters of our instincts too when we learn to trust what we know without knowing. Sure, my dog might spend a solid ten minutes barking at the neighbor’s squeaky gate, but he can also tell in an instant when I’m about to leave for the day or take him for a walk or get him a doggy biscuit. Honing our own instincts makes us better writers. We learn to trust the story, trust our subconscious, and leave the rest to the dogs.

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