23 January 2008

Training a Puppy and Writing



I did something this past holiday season that I’ve never done before. I took more than one consecutive day off from writing! After the passing of my beloved dog, Wiggles, I emotionally spiraled downward for awhile. It was difficult to write without his head and paws resting on top of my feet.

But life does go on. After mourning Wiggles for a few weeks, I decided it was time to find another dog. Although I still had my two other dogs—Maxie and Lady—the house simply felt like it was missing something without that third dog. So, after an extensive search, Sammy came into my life.

I’d forgotten how exciting, tumultuous and frenetic life can be with a puppy. Yet as I chased him around the yard trying to pull grass and twigs out of his mouth (like many puppies, he’ll put most anything in his mouth), it suddenly occurred to me just how similar raising a puppy and handling a writing career can be. Let me share those similarities.

Similarity Number One: Sometimes it’s fun, but sometimes it’s just plain hard work. Puppies are cute and cuddly. Puppies are funny and lovable. Puppies, however, are just plain hard work. From watching them every second to trying to housetrain them, they take a lot of time and effort. Unlike human babies, they are also extremely mobile in those first few weeks. During the first couple of months with Sammy, I found myself wishing I could slap a diaper on him and strap him into a cradle. No such luck.

Don’t get me wrong. I love puppies. I am a true dog fanatic. However, I also love to write. I’ve written in one form or another all my life. I’ll never give it up. Plus, once I’ve finished a book, I’m thrilled and proud of what I’ve accomplished. Writing can be great fun. However, there are other days when putting my butt in my chair and getting to work is the last thing I want to do. I’d rather go shopping. I’d rather go out to lunch. But writing is what I do. It’s my profession. So I take the hard work along with the enjoyment.

Similarity Number Two: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Of course, you can guess what I’m talking about, can’t you? Training a puppy to do his business in the yard—and not on my clean carpet—is a full-time job. There were accidents and there were other times when I would’ve sworn Sammy peed on my carpet on purpose. You know. Just to get my goat. Heck, at times he did it while staring directly at me as though saying, “Oh, yeah? You don’t want me to pee inside where it’s warm and dry? Ha! Watch this, lady!”

Believe it or not, training a pup is a lot like writing. For instance, when I write a scene, I turn on the internal editor and just write it. However, I know from experience that the first version is never exactly the way I want it. The first draft is never complete. Never perfect. Never “placed” in the right spot. Just like Sammy’s sometimes pitiful attempts to poo in the right spot. But, just like with Sammy, I don’t give up. I try and try again and know that, eventually, I’ll get what I want and where I want it.

Similarity Number Three: What comes out is sometimes *#&*. Yep, you got it right. For the first three weeks of his life with me, Sammy had a parasite that turned his stool to mush. It was awful and it stunk to you-know-where. So, being a good dog owner, I followed the vet’s instruction and gave him medicine three times each day for three weeks.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? Sometimes what I write is good. At times, it’s very good (if I do say so myself). But at other times, it’s just plain terrible. That’s when I go back to the beginning and work to turn &^%* into something good.

Similarity Number Four: The result is not always what you wanted when you started. I agree with Forest Gump’s mamma. Life is like a box of chocolates because you don’t always know what you’ll get. Puppies are supposed to grow up to be what you bought, right? A shih-tzu isn’t going to turn into a Doberman, right? Well, okay, maybe. I have one shih-tzu who was sold to me as a full-bred shih-tzu. However, he’s much bigger, much brawnier than any shih-tzu I’ve seen. I think he must be part Lab. But it’s okay. I still love the big lug.

Books are often the same way. I’ve written books thinking they were funny and light-hearted only to have readers email me to say they cried through much of the book. Okay, sure. Most of my books contain the gamut different emotions. Still, as the author, I have a certain impression of each book. Fortunately and unfortunately, the reader’s impression can be totally different from mine. And it’s okay. I still love my readers.

Similarity Number Five: Feedback is good and bad. Puppies give feedback in non-verbal ways. A snuggle in your lap says “I trust you.” A rapid succession of licks on the cheek says “I love you.” Yet not all their feedback is good. A slight nip on the hand can say “I don’t like what you’re doing.”

Writing is the same. Whether it’s a reader emailing to rave about my latest release or a reviewer trashing the book, feedback can vary widely. As a professional, I know this is true and, as a dog owner, I’ve learned to appreciate the good feedback and use the negative one for learning a good lesson.

Similarity Number Six: Even with the bad, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Okay, I admit it. Getting used to a new puppy and training a new member of the household is daunting. At times, I regretted my decision to get another dog. But the first time Sammy rested his head and paws on my feet while I was writing, I knew I wouldn’t have traded him for the world.

Writing is often frustrating, aggravating, annoying, perplexing, thankless and worse. But when push comes to shove, I know the joy and benefits outweigh everything else. So, with Sammy at my feet, I’ll keep on writing.


Beverly Rae - www.beverlyrae.com
Giggle, Gasp & Sigh with a Beverly Rae Romance
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