Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Writing on Wednesday: Animals and Writing, Oh My!

Showing my lovely Calgary in
Open Jumpers, Lafayette, Indiana, 1970
On Monday I wrote about dog hair, which is a big part of my life. Dogs (and cats and horses and birds and other critters) are not only vital characters in my forthcoming Animals in Focus Mystery series, but also an important part of my larger life. I showed horses in my teens and twenties, and I’ve been active for two decades in canine activities, competitive and not. My profession, though, for the past few decades, has been writing and helping other people learn to write better. At first glance it may seem that showing animals and writing are completely different sorts of pursuits, but they have more in common than you might think.

I’ve considered the similarities in my passions before, but last January I entertained myself with this question as I languished in an airport after judging a dog show. I was tired of playing backgammon on my iPad (it cheats), and I had finished the book I brought to read. Assuming that I’m a reasonably consistent human being (potentially a topic for another time), I figure that dog sports and writing must have elements in common to keep me so passionate about them for so many years.

Showing my lovely Reno - Sugarbush's Renegade Maverick
 (I didn't name him!) in Indianapolis in.

The first element that comes to mind is aesthetic appeal. Beauty, yes – a well-turned phrase, a gorgeous head. But there’s more to aesthetic appeal than beauty. There’s rhythm, function, timing, and all the other things that come together to stir us to respond emotionally and intellectually to the thing before us. A dog may be beautiful in itself, or in its performance, or – ideally – in both, just as a piece of writing may be beautiful for its language and rhythm, or the way it moves us, or – ideally – both.

Then there’s the challenge of doing well in either arena. Training a dog to compete successfully is a lot of hard work for trainer and dog alike. Learning to write well is also a lot of hard work. This is, of course, true of anything we want to do well. To the casual observer of the finished product – the book, the competitive performance – it may appear to be no big deal. Trust me, it is. In fact, novices in both fields are often amazed to discover that they have to work, and work hard, if they want to make it look effortless.

We have to keep dealing with the messiness
if we want accomplish something.

Of course, no matter how good you are, you don’t win every time. Editors say no thanks. Judges put you and your dog at the end of the line. Rejection is part of both games, and rejection sucks. But here’s the thing.... the people who win a lot – with book contracts and in canine competitions – have also lost a lot. You just keep playing, and learning to play better, and eventually you win more often. And along the way, you're bound to get a little messy.

I thought of a few other parallels before we started boarding the plane, but the one that stood out - that has stood out for me for many years – is that I write and I show dogs because they’re both so darn much fun. In fact, despite the hard work and disappointments and frustrations that come with the territory, I’ve found some of my best friends through both activities, had some great laughs, enjoyed profound and moving moments. I can’t think of two better ways to live large parts of my life.

I hope you'll come back for Artsy Fartsy Friday - you never know what will appear!



  1. Great blog Sheila! I think another commonality between training and writing is that they are both fairly solitary in nature. Trainers spend lots of time working with their dogs alone, in the back yard or garage, perfecting the exercises.
    Writers also spend hours in front of the computer writing, researching, and revising before presenting their finished product!
    Barb M.

    1. Very true, Barb! Your comment made me realize a personal "sub-parallel," too. I have always sought out "busy," rather than isolated, placed to do both. I write in public places for the most part because I like the hubbub around me and find it comforting, rarely distracting. And I tend to train, even young or older beginning dogs, in busy places with distractions right from the start. Hmmmm...I wonder whether writer/dog trainers who prefer quiet for writing also prefer quiter training environments. Interesting!

    2. Interesting, indeed! I, too, will train in busier places when the dog is ready for distractions. I prefer quiet areas for new dogs or pups.
      But, I rarely write in noisy, busy places. I am too easily distracted. I do like to read and research in a more populated area like a book store or cafe.