Monday, May 14, 2012

Get Your Writing to Heel

Writing a novel is a bit like walking multiple unruly dogs. If you don’t watch out plot threads get out of control, tangled up and even completely off center much the way dogs can circle your legs with their leashes and bowl you over.
Recently I’ve experienced this very thing. I’m a dog owner, the proud mama of four dogs to be precise: two miniature dachshunds, one standard dachshund, and one grandma cocker spaniel. The minis and granny love to walk, my standard – which is also the newest addition to the family pack and a mere one year of age, to boot – not so much. However, the fact that Cocoa Puff (the newbie) has boundless energy makes it essential to take her out for a good, long walk. I’m no professional dog walker. Three dogs are my limit, at least until Cocoa Puff settles down, and so the two minis go with Cocoa on our walks.
Like the experts suggested, I tethered my best walker, Queen Spooky, to my most troublesome walker, Cocoa, with a tandem leash while Roxie walked on my left. The experts agree that the good walker will correct the poor walker’s bad habits by example. They also agree that you must train each dog individually to sit, stay, and heel. Uh-huh. Long story short, everything that a dog walker doesn’t want to happen, happened. I was wound up in leashes too many times to count, which made it ever more shocking that I didn’t topple over. Oh, and Spooky and Cocoa even spread the love by wrapping themselves around a random male walker. Thankfully, he was a good sport and laughed it off. After three or four tries, we got him free of the leads and on his way. On the other hand, I was shaken up, embarrassed for my rowdy girls and myself. As a writer, I naturally began seeing parallels between this experience and my writing life.

Step one to successful dog walking is to do your homework. Teach the dogs to sit, stay, heel. Take each dog for a one-on-one walk and teach him to walk by your side. Successful writing requires the same discipline. As a writer, we must take the time to research. There’s nothing worse than a story filled with inaccuracies and myths. Invest creativity in building your world. Be it a language or three, an alien world or culture, to achieve believability you must do the work.

Step two to successful dog walking is to assign walking positions of each dog. You don’t want to pair two nervous dogs on a leash – too much drama. Best to put your steadiest, most experienced walker with the novice. Same thing with your plotting. You don’t want one Scene to follow another. Sequel is essential to keeping your reader involved, plus it gives the reader time to digest the action and drama that occurred in the preceding Scene. On our next walk, I’m pairing Roxie with Cocoa Puff. Roxie is my steadiest walker. She never leaves my side and rarely makes a misstep.

Step three to successful dog walking is to walk assertively. Once you have the pack walking in the forward direction, just keep walking. It is suggested that you plan for a rest stop, but be prepared that this will knock your dogs off track as you will have to start over, reorganize the dogs, and struggle to regain your momentum. How many times have I gotten frustrated with my work in progress and put it down for a “break”? And how hard was it for me to get back my momentum? As a writer, you should beware the pit stop. Bestselling author Lori Foster says that she tries to write her first draft as quickly as possible so she can get to the part she most enjoys: editing. Editing is no favorite of mine, but I know that if you have momentum then it’s best to keep moving forward.
Dog walking can be fun for the walker and the dogs. It can also be frustrating, and trying – the same as writing. How do you keep your writing on track? What homework do you do to make your manuscripts complete? What works for you?


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Carolyn. I'm sorry I had posted on the wrong date! Hope your Mother's Day was great.

  2. I guess the trick is just keep walking the dogs every day, rain or shine. Otherwise they'll poop in the house and your WIP will never get written ;)

    1. My newbie, Cocoa Puff, is having problems differentiating carpet from grass. Yep. Good times.

  3. If I could just get the story to go right now like my dog walks, lol. What a great post, Cadence. I particularly liked the walking assertively part. We just think of ourselves and our wips as we intend for them to be and keep moving forward.

    1. The moving forward is the problem for me. Most times I get wound up in the leashes. Today I'm doing mini refreshers of my favorite craft books and some writing exercises, then it's on to plotting the YA. Thanks for stopping in!



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