Sep 16, 2011

Why Writing is Like Owning a Dog

I’d like to welcome a new addition to the White family.  Her name is Angie and she’s a 5-year old Chihuahua-Papillon mix from the Humane Society.  My wife and I have never owned a dog before so this should be an interesting adventure for all three of us.  Angie’s been a wonderful dog so far with a nice personality, but will also require some structure, rules and discipline along the way.  There are times when everything is going great and running smoothly while other moments leave you wanting to pull out your hair.  Although we’ve had her only two weeks, I’m already starting to see similarities between owning a dog and being a writer and it definitely takes hard work to succeed at both.

Like anything worth doing, if you plan on doing it over time you’ll need a set of ground rules to follow to help form good habits.  My wife and I were lucky that Angie appears to already have some house-training and generally respects basic boundaries we have initially setup like not trying to grab food off our dinner plates, but as she settles into our household and comes out of her shell there are areas that will require more discipline and training.  For example, she doesn’t quite recognize her name yet and it can take a bit of effort sometimes to get her to come over to you (that is of course when you’re not holding a treat in your hand).

Likewise, if you plan on being a writer long-term you’ll need certain ground rules to keep you going such as some sort of word goal every day, an understanding of spelling/rules of grammar, or a reasonable environment conducive to creativity (whether it’s in a quiet office or a busy Starbucks is up to you).  There are a ton of other topics I could list, but you get the idea, whether it’s a dog or writing career, set up rules to foster a productive environment for yourself and keep at them with self-discipline.  If you make mistakes, don’t worry, just pick yourself up and keep at it.

We might not always admit it, but writers love when readers praise their work and it’s often one of the big kicks we get out of the art form.  Yes, I know you’re supposed to write only for yourself because it’s something you love and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, but for many of us, what others think actually does matter.  Who doesn’t love positive, constructive praise?  A writer needs praise from time to time, but like a dog, the praise needs to be the result of having done something desirable.  I would prefer someone say I wrote a good story over someone saying I’m a good writer, the reason being that the praise was directed towards a tangible result of my craft, not the abstracts of the craft itself.  Similarly, a disciplined dog is praised or rewarded for performing a trick or some other desired behavior, not simply because it’s a dog.

Whether writing a novel or owning a dog you have to really want to do so.  A half-hearted attempt leads to a half-hearted response and readers will be able to tell from your words just as a dog can read the emotions coming from their master.  Take time, evaluate your feelings and decide if it’s a journey you want to embark upon.  If not, don’t worry about it.  No one will think worse of you.  If you decide you really want to pursue the journey, embrace it with both arms and run with it (pun intended).  Either way pick what works and you’ll be fine.