Gustav Flaubert said, “A writer’s life is a dog’s life, but it’s the only life worth living.” If you write about dogs, as I do, this statement is especially true. My books feature a canine companion or two, including my latest stand-alone novel, “The Secret of Bramble Hill.” I don’t know whether Monsieur Flaubert had dogs of his own. If so, he must have known that they have much to teach us about the writing life if we observe their behavior. In my experience, there’s no breed better suited to be a writer’s role model than the persistent, determined basset hound, which is as French as Flaubert.
I’ve been owned by eight bassets, which inspired me to create the long-eared sleuths in my Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series for dog lovers (book #5, “Ears for Murder” will be released in 2017 from Black Opal Books). Knowing these dogs as well as I do, I have come to understand that in order to lead the pack in pursuit of success in the literary field, a writer must emulate many of the same traits that make a scent hound so good at tracking hares in the field.
I have observed basset behavior within drool-slinging range for many years and have become well versed in the history of the breed. During that time I have also come to understand that they are the perfect barketype for the writer’s life.
As comical as these dogs may look, with their sausage bodies, stubby, crooked legs and Dumbo ears, they also possess the same inner qualities every serious writer must develop or nurture in the pursuit of publication: tenacity, stubbornness, unflappable focus, and persistence. It’s not so much a matter of talent—although, it’s certainly a bonus—that helps a writer succeed, but the daily practice of those same dogged traits of the basset that will unleash the author and set him firmly on the trail to success.
I’d like to share with you what I have learned from my dogs about how to achieve success in a writing career. Here are some tricks they’ve taught me that can be applied to the writer’s life. I hope you’ll find them as useful as I have.
- Pick up the Scent—Every writer begins with the same question: What shall I write? A basset ranges in the field, searching for the scent of game. Then suddenly he picks up a hot scent and it’s tally-ho! The joy is no less great for a writer who has found the thing she loves to write about.
- Stay on Track—Dogged determination is key to success in the field or on the page. A basset hound is stubborn, tenacious, and persistent. The only difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is that the unpublished one gave up too soon.
- Follow Where the Path Leads You—Heed the signs and stay true to your goal. Like a hound, the writer may also stray off the path now and then and be distracted by any number of things, but if you keep your goal in mind, you’ll get back on track.
- Find your Voice—Every dog has a different bark: the mailman bark; the all paws on deck, there’s a prowler bark; the neighbor’s cat on the fence bark; the squirrel in the tree bark. Similarly, each writer has a distinctive voice. Writing, writing, and more writing will help the writer discover that voice.
- Use your Ears (and all your senses)—Dogs have a keen sense of hearing. Writers have good ears, too. They are always listening, eavesdropping. Like dogs, they use all their senses to experience the big, wonderful world around them.
- Slow and Steady Wins the Race—Have you ever tried to hurry a basset hound? The same is true of writing. There are no shortcuts. You have to do the work and take time to edit and improve your writing.
- Enjoy the Journey—A basset hound knows how to enjoy life. He eats, he chases cats and squirrels, plays with other dogs, follows his nose, naps. He naps a lot. He constantly conserves his energy and recharges his batteries. So should you. All work and no play make for dull, uninspired writing.
- Leave Your Mark Along the Way—When I walk my dogs around the neighborhood, they leave pee-mails for other dogs that say, “Hey I was here! Writers write partly because we want to leave something behind that says we were here. We’re still reading the words of writers who are now dust, but as long as we read their words, they never die. Do some good where you can. Mentor other writers. Teach.
- Hang with the Pack—Bassets work best in packs. So do writers. Writing can be a very lonely profession. Be with other writers, read other writers’ work, learn from other writers, and you can’t help but become a better writer.
- Bark up the Right Tree—A scent hound doesn’t waste time following a trail that will not lead him to his quarry. A writer must not waste time and energy sending out material incorrectly to the wrong markets.
- Take the Bite out of Rejection—If a dog gets rejected or pushed aside because his master can’t give him what he wants right then, he doesn’t give up. He doesn’t sulk or whine but comes back and tries again and again. With persistence, he eventually gets his reward.
12. Share the Rewards of the Hunt—At the end of a successful hunt, the hunter always rewards his hounds. When you finally attain your literary goal and enjoy the fruits of your labors, give something back to show your gratitude. Be gracious. Share your reward with others. And reward yourself for a job well done.
Sue Owens Wright is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. She is an eleven-time finalist for the Maxwell, awarded annually by the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) to the best writer on the subject of dogs. She has twice won the Maxwell Award and earned special recognition from the Humane Society of the United States for her writing. She writes the acclaimed Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, including Howling Bloody Murder, Sirius About Murder, Embarking On Murder and Braced For Murder, which is recommended on the American Kennel Club’s list of Best Dog Books.
Her nonfiction books include What’s Your Dog’s IQ?, 150 Activities for Bored Dogs, and People’s Guide to Pets. She has been published in numerous magazines, including Dog Fancy, Mystery Scene, AKC GAZETTE, Fido Friendly, The Bark, and Animal Fair. Her work also appears in several anthologies, including PEN Oakland’s “Fightin’ Words,” along with Norman Mailer and other literary notables. Her newest novel is The Secret of Bramble Hill.
Website URL: http://www.sueowenswright.com
Blog URL: http://dogearedbooks.blogspot.com/
Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/sue.o.wright
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