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Of Dogs and Writing is a Weekly Wednesday post about lessons learned from dogs in my life that I can apply to writing.

Before I had Cassie,   I had Chelsie. 
The two dogs could not have been more different. Chelsie was afraid of everything, thunder and lighting, firecrackers, gunshot, most people (especially men) and sneezes. Yes, if you sneezed she would leave the room. Cassie is not afraid as much as she is cautious. But I would say she is cautiously optimistic because she is always willing to try new things. She might make a lot of racket about it, bark like crazy when she is unsure of herself, but she always tries.

For example, water. When we first got Cassie it was summer and I was out in the yard a lot. I noticed when I would water the plants she would stay far, far away. I'm guessing she got squirted with the hose as punishment or something before we got her.  So I got her a wading pool, put it out back, filled it with water, and tossed in a few toys. Then I ignored the water and her.

She ignored it too.

After a few days she was interested enough in the toys to stand by the edge and wait for them to float over so she could get them out. I pretended like I hadn't noticed but later I put the toys back in the water. This went on for a few weeks until one day the toy she really, really wanted was in the center of the pool and no matter how long she waited, it wasn't drifting over to the edge. So she put one foot in the water, stretched her neck out as far as possible, snatched that toy, and ran away.

I went in the house before I started to laugh.

It became her personal mission to get anything that went in the pool, back out of the pool. Toys, sticks, leaves and bugs. Anything that floated on the surface was fair game.

But there was one toy, one she really liked, that didn't float. It sunk. Right down to the bottom of the pool under about 10 inches of water. She got really good at using her paw under water to move it to the edge and then up the side of the pool and back out again. Obviously the goal for her was not to get her pretty little face wet. 

I had different goals. I wanted to see if she would decide to put her face in the water on her own. So I grabbed more toys that wouldn't float and filled the pool with them. It took a lot of effort for her to work them over to the edge with her paw and it wasn't quite as much fun on the 5th and 6th toy as it was on the first. By now she was quite comfortable just standing in the water so that's what she did, stood in the pool, over her toy, and stared at me.

I stared back. I could almost see the little wheels turning in her brain. How badly did she really want that toy? What would happen to her if she put her head under the water? What would her human expect from her if she did this very scary thing?

I decided to ignore her. This was her battle, not mine. I went in the house and peered out from between the slatt of the shutters. After much internal deliberation Cassie shoved her nose under water, grabbed that toy, and jumped out of the pool. Her proud tail waving high like a flag annoucing her brave accomplishment.

What did I do? I went back outside and put all the toys back in the pool. And now diving for toys (and bugs) is one of Cassie's most favorite things to do.

I think the key for Cassie was lots of exposure and no pressure. The same thing we need to do with our writing. When you want to write in an area you haven't written in before you need to immerse yourself in it. If you want to write picture books you read 100, 200 of them before you even start. If you are switching to mysteries you read lots and lots of mysteries. And then you just dive in. You try. You pause. You try again. You put one foot in the water, then the other and before you know it, you are diving under and writing your first mystery from start to finish.

Today is the first day of National Poetry Month. There are so many wonderful events happening out there in the blogosphere and I was struggling with how I was going to participate. I've decided to challenge myself to write a poem a day, a haiku, inspired by my California Native Plant garden. I have long been a fan of haiku though much of what I have written of it was back in high school. I know the basic structure, 5-7-5 and the basic theme, nature. I like the idea that they are short but often many layered. I think haiku could be a wonderful way to introduce more people to native gardening.

This challenge is huge for me on several layers. I am fearful of anything new or looking silly while doing it. I am not a native plant expert so I will have to research oftentimes before I can write. And most of all because doing it, finding a way to combine poetry with my native garden, matters to me a great deal.

I changed my mind from my original post and I will be posting my daily haiku.

Shouldn't I try to be as brave in my writing as Cassie was about water? 

I think so.
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 14 comments — Leave comment )
April 1st, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
Okay, so what you're saying is (and I know you meant this just for me!) I'm going to have to start writing BEFORE/WITHOUT knowing every single possible fact about Chicago in 1913? All right. As long as I don't have to get my nose wet.
April 1st, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
April 1st, 2009 09:57 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post. Lots of exposure and no pressure is great advice for beginning anything new. Good luck on your haiku this month!
April 3rd, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jama. It's going to be a fun challenge and I changed my mind and decided to post them all...part of the being brave process.
(Deleted comment)
April 3rd, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jenn. I changed my mind and decided to post them all...part of the being brave process.
April 2nd, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)
April 3rd, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
Thanks, Meg.
April 2nd, 2009 05:13 am (UTC)
Susan you brought it all together for me. Often I tend to do too much gathering before I take one step. I am not too familiar with haiku poems and look forward to reading yours.

April 3rd, 2009 03:54 am (UTC)
Re: Beginning
Thanks Carma. It's hard to get past the gathering stage. I've started posting the haiku...it's a bit scary but in a good way.
April 2nd, 2009 08:08 am (UTC)
I just want to thank you for exposing your own vulnerability, which is so much part of the writing process. I really relate to this post!
April 3rd, 2009 03:54 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks
Whoever you are, thank you for posting this comment. I'm never quite sure if I share too much. This helps.
April 2nd, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)
Susan, I really enjoyed reading your post about writing. I love haiku. I once read an article in a teaching magazine that said haiku is the least liked poetry form of children. I've been teaching nearly 30 yrs., and I've never found that to be the case.
I can't wait to see what you come up with. P.S. Have you seen Andrew Clement's Dogku? Haiku is perfect for my struggling writers.
This is my first time commenting on your site so I hope it doesn't come out too silly.
Linda http://ldkwritetime.blogspot.com
April 3rd, 2009 03:56 am (UTC)
Re: haiku
Linda, thanks so much for being brave enough to post a comment here. I hope you'll continue to do so. It's not silly at all.

I love hearing that haiku isn't as much of a turnoff to kids as we might have thought.

I had forgotten about Dogku! Thanks for the reminder.
(Deleted comment)
April 3rd, 2009 03:56 am (UTC)
Thanks, Joyce. Perhaps Cassie's story will make it into my rescue dog book that is perculating.
( 14 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties."
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