Ten Things My Dog Taught Me About Writing by Barbara Dee
Almost two years ago, my family adopted a hound from Rescue Me Clifford, an organization in Illinois named after the Big Red Dog of kidlit. The dog we brought into our home was about two years old (you can never know for sure with rescues), ridiculously sweet, grateful for everything, and quiet. But even though Ripley’s not especially verbal, she’s taught me some important lessons about writing.
1-Keep a schedule... As a rescued stray, Ripley feels most secure when I keep her on a fairly predictable schedule. As a full-time writer, I’ve realized I’m the same way. It’s all too easy for me to spend my day reading for pleasure or watching YouTube–but if I did, I’d start to doubt myself as a professional, and I’m sure my work would suffer. Keeping a schedule makes me feel I belong–at my desk.
2-…But Be Open To New Paths. Like Ripley, I’ve learned to explore. With five books under my belt, I used to think I was a seat-of-my-pants writer, never using outlines or any other organizational tools. I also used to think of myself as a writer who was “character first, plot second.” Then my son became seriously ill for a year, and I didn’t write a word. At the end of that miserable time, I found myself itching to start a new novel, but I didn’t want to invest a year writing a novel that might not even get published. So I wrote a plot synopsis (previously, torture for me) just to find out if I had an idea worth developing. Shockingly, the synopsis resulted in a book deal for TRUTH OR DARE. I’ve now written my last three books this way: synopsis first. If you’d told me a few years ago that this way of working would become my preferred method, I’d have said you were crazy.
3-Every Dog Has a Story. It’s not all about “big” characters–superheroes, wizards, kids with special crime-fighting powers. Everyone you meet on the street has a backstory. Get up close enough to sniff your character’s butt (metaphorically, of course). Know when to take a step back.
4-Don’t Growl at People. Sometimes people who post nasty reviews have their own agendas that have nothing to do with your book. Sometimes they don’t even read your book. These folks can trash your book on sites like Goodreads with no repercussions–to them. It’s a crazy, unfair system. But never counter-attack; no one wins dogfights. Just move on.
5-Don’t Hoard Your Toys. Whenever possible, be nice. Use your Facebook page to promote new releases. Tweet other authors’ rave reviews. Share book festival and bookstore signing info with other authors. Offer support when they get rejections. This can be a soul-crushing business. If you’re a good sport and a loyal friend, you’ll be happier about your place in it.
6- Always Fetch the Ball. When a reader writes to you, answer right away. When an author asks for a favor, respond quickly and considerately. Don’t leave people hanging. Be respectful; be nice (See #5).
7-It’s Not all About Westminster. It’s tempting to distract and demoralize yourself by looking over your shoulder at the blue ribbons other authors are winning. Try to remember that a writing career is not about being Best in Show. Only one dog gets that prize–but there are plenty of adorable mutts in the world, and they’re loved, too.
8-Go For a Walk. When in doubt, go for a walk. When you’re blocked, go for a walk. When you’re convinced your manuscript is hopeless, or you can’t spend one more minute on that revision, go for a walk. Always go for a walk.
9-Stop and Sniff. Hounds know it’s not all about arriving at the destination–it’s important to sniff random stuff along the way. Your writing isn’t all about the last sentence or the last chapter. It’s not about winning the award, or making the list, or getting on that panel. Heck, it’s not even about getting published. Love the process. Crack yourself up, make yourself cry. Fall in love with your characters. Enjoy the intoxicating smell of new words.
10-Treat yourself. Self-explanatory, right? Writing is hard. You deserve it.
Barbara Dee writes humorous fiction for tweens. She is the author of THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS, TRAUMA QUEEN, THIS IS ME FROM NOW ON, SOLVING ZOE and JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY INSANELY REAL LIFE, all of which are published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. Her newest book, TRUTH OR DARE (Aladdin/S&S) launches on September 20. Her next book, STAR-CROSSED, will launch March 2017. Barbara is one of the founders and directors of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival, now in its fourth year. A former English teacher and lawyer, she lives in Chappaqua, NY with her family, rescue hound, Ripley, and two naughty cats.