Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sit. Stay. Write. Good Girl!

Writing a book is easier than training a puppy.
The principles are the same, the methods are similar, the hard work pays off with a finished product that impresses the neighbours but a half hour walk with the puppy wears me out faster than four hours sitting at the computer.
It was while putting the puppy back into a sit-stay after she followed me for the ninth time that the truth dawned. 
I would be a better writer if I applied to my writing the same rules that go with training: patience, persistence and consistency. Writers and puppies have much in common: short attention spans, frequent bathroom breaks, the need for kind and gentle handling. This calls for lots of positive reinforcement – and a great reward for the right behavior.
Right after breakfast, I head out into the yard to run around. No point in trying to concentrate if I haven’t worked off some energy. I throw the ball around and roll in the grass until my tongue hangs out of my mouth. Back inside, I fill a bowl with yummy treats and put it on my desk. Food is a powerful motivator. With one eye on the bowl of chocolate chip cookies, I sit.  One cookie!  I open up my laptop and engage the writing program. Another cookie! This is going so well. I begin typing. Jackpot! Three cookies. Good girl! You’re such a good girl!
The first test of my training comes as my attention wanders off. Someone is cooking downstairs and it smells wonderful. My nose is twitching and I really, really want to go and check it out. Staaaaaay. Good girl. Have a cookie. After typing a bit more, I notice the framed pictures on the bookcase need to be rearranged. I head over and reach for – Sara, leave it! My hand hovers then drops. Cookie! Back to your chair. Sit. Good girl! Cookie!
After another hour of sit-stay, I’ve written six pages. Jackpot! Six cookies. Good girl!  Let’s go play.
Since my previous literary companion came to me as a three-year-old, this is the first time I’ve raised a puppy so I’m probably trying too hard with her training. Funny thing is I’m not like that with my book. I understand it takes months to write and edit.  I expect to rewrite parts that don’t flow the way they need to. There will be days when I only work on one section until I’m satisfied and other days when it’s time to introduce new material.
What I need to do is think of my puppy as a book in progress. One page at a time. Sit. Stay. Come. As the months pass, the chapters will gather and the puppy will grow. The next thing I know, I’ll be finding new distractions in a two-year-old dog and my next book.
All it takes is patience, persistence, consistency – and a big bowl of cookies.

by Sara Jewell Mattinson

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