Like many independent book editors, I usually work alone. But, I do have two secret weapons: my cat, Mozart (who recently inspired another blog post), and my rescued golden retriever, Harpo.
I admit, they aren’t always the most helpful of companions, particularly around feeding time. In fact, I used to worry that Harpo — who gobbles anything in reach (including office supplies), leaps on us whenever we enter a room, chases the poor cat, or snatches any shoes left by the door — would be a giant distraction from my work.
But, over time, Harpo’s sunny personality proved to be a wonderful source of writing inspiration.
Here are 6 things my dog taught me about writing:
1. Demand attention.
When Harpo needs help or craves love and comfort, he’s never afraid to reach out and ask for it. As you can see, this can make moments when I need to edit a manuscript a bit difficult. But, it dawned on me that Harpo’s persistence is something many of my authors who have achieved publishing success also embrace: they knew they needed guidance and kept working at improving until they got it right.
2. Explore with your senses.
As many fellow dog owners know, when a dog isn’t eating, he’s searching for food. He moves through life with his tongue, ready to investigate whatever comes his way. He also sticks his nose in every nook and cranny, and tries to figure out what’s going on outside the house with those sensitive ears of his.
For writers who feel a passage they’re working on just isn’t reading right, try thinking about the five senses. If you’re a novelist, ask yourself what your character is smelling (what do those smells remind him of?), or explore what your character hears (does a sound alarm him?). If you’re a nonfiction writer, you can even bring in sensory details to add life to an anecdote you’re writing.
3. Seek advice.
Outside perspectives are key for writers. A true writer isn’t afraid to see what others in their field are saying about a particular topic, ask for advice from an expert, or hear other people’s stories. True writers welcome the insights and perspectives of new people, just as Harpo is tuned into his new friend, here. Listening to other voices and inviting outside points-of-view can enhance your own writing.
4. Be playful.
We sometimes look over at Harpo and explode with laughter — so often, it’s almost as if he acts like a human. He sits upright. He sits on the couch across from us when others are in the living room. It’s very strange — but he doesn’t care!
Writers should embrace their own quirks. Writing can often feel like a routine. Just as Harpo knows when it’s time to snatch a colorful toy, it’s key for writers to try new things every once in a while. Try starting the day with a wacky writing prompt, or going in a completely different direction in one chapter to loosen your creative muscles.
5. Be patient.
Much to Harpo’s chagrin, mealtime doesn’t last all day. Time at the park doesn’t, either. Yet, Harpo has a knack for taking silent cues from his humans and knowing when it’s time to relax and wait.
Patience is especially important for writers who are pitching their work or querying a literary agent about a novel submission. Pestering an agent before they’ve truly had time to read your submission can mark you as an amateur. For more about novel submission etiquette, read this article.
6. Read new things.
Sure, Harpo might not know what he’s “reading,” (or so they say…) but this silly photograph is a good reminder for writers to keep abreast of new articles, books, essays and novels out there. You never know what inspiration you can draw from something you’ve read.
Are you a writer who has a dog? Let me know how yours has inspired your writing in the comments below.