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  • August 5th, 2009 | 11:53 PM
Of Dogs and Writing - The Sniff Test


During the week my time to work in the garden is governed by how many times Cassie rings the bells to go outside. When the water starts to drip in the bird bath we must go out so she can inspect the area and then retire to her hill to watch as the birds flock to the water. Several times a day we need to go out so she can nose along the coyote mint, nuzzling the bees as the scoot from flower to flower. How it is that she hasn't gotten stung yet is anyone's guess. When bugs skitter along on the ground she follows them, eyes on the prize so fiercely that she often trips over things in her path because she is watching the bug instead of where she is going. Of late she is fascinated with our resident Charlotte, the garden spider who has set up camp in the water feature area and can often be found waiting in her web which is just in line with Cassie's nose. Luckily the "leave it" command seems to be working and Cassie only pauses to say hello to Charlotte before moving on.

In the mornings I am frustrated by her constant need, every hour, to go outside for something or another. I am grumpy, still waking up, and trying to get to work. But as the day goes on I find myself adapting to her rhythm. While she investigates the bugs I pull a weed or two, repot a plant or move some rocks. When she is tired we go back inside and I can go back to work for a little while.

Today I was pulling up some lovely Yarrow to divide and put into pots to grow until fall. As I separated the plants Cassie came over to check out what I was doing. I held the damp roots toward her nose and she sniffed them all around then slowly sniffed the length of the plant and back down again. She sat down and stared at me and I wasn't quite sure what she wanted. I went back to teasing the roots apart into individual plants. As soon as I pulled another one apart she began the sniffing process again. By the third time I was also looking closely at the plant, wondering if someone had sprinkled liver or some other doggie delicacy around the leaves. Of course I found nothing.

I laughed at my silly dog doing what we call the Cassie inspection and quickly finished up the potting so we could go  back inside.

I'm taking a writing class right now, one of those look closely at your work, tear it apart so you can rebuild it stronger than before kind of classes. This is a very good thing for me.

When I got the first assignments I read them over several times and couldn't wrap my brain around what needed to be done. I wanted to pull open my story, go right to work, turn in the assignment, collect my pats on the back and move on.

But I couldn't do it because I couldn't get it and I couldn't get it because I wasn't taking the time to look closely at what needed to be done. It's not that I thought the story was already perfect. Far from it. It's that I wasn't willing to look at it word by word, as closely as Cassie sniffs those plants when she does her inspections.

I've always said I was a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer. An intuitive writer. I didn't know what I did or why I did it but I knew what needed to be done. Or so I thought. Now I wonder if I was just getting by or just plain lucky.

Today I opened the assignment and tore it apart, sentence by sentence, until I began to finally see how I could apply it to my work. At first it felt forced but as the day wore on I began to feel little light bulbs clicking on. By the time I had done a couple of the assignments I could see how the few changes would strengthen and deepen the story.

Writing a first draft in fast, hot heat is a good thing. It lets you get the story down while the emotion is bubbling at the surface. But the next draft, that's where you need to slow down and reflect word by word, motivation by motivation, until you get to the heart of what it is you are trying to say.

From now on I'm going to try to remember to slow down and give my writing the sniff test before claiming it's done.

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


( 9 comments — Leave comment )
August 6th, 2009 10:19 am (UTC)
But the next draft, that's where you need to slow down and reflect word by word, motivation by motivation, until you get to the heart of what it is you are trying to say.

This is so true, and exactly what I'm struggling with now. Good luck!!
August 6th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC)
You know I feel sorta dumb that I haven't looked this closely at some of these things before. And highlighters? I've never used them to mark a chapter up (one color for dialog, one for action, compare balance) but wow! what a help!

Hope the revisions are moving along for you.
August 7th, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC)
I'm ready to start hand revisions today as soon as I print it out. I used different colored markers too! :)
August 6th, 2009 10:49 am (UTC)
You will get there I have every faith that you will and the story will be exactly as you intend it to be. If you remember I emailed my poem to you 3 times before we were both finally happy with it . Now I use that poem for birthday cards and such and everyone loves it and says how special it is. So hang in there I know it is frustrating but well worth it in the end and as they say "A job worth doing is worth doing well" Good luck again although again you won't need it !!
- Anne McKenna
August 6th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Anne. You are such a great supporter. I appreciate it.
August 6th, 2009 12:22 pm (UTC)
I'm also struggling with the same thing, and discovering that the places where I'm least inclined to linger are exactly the ones that need the most attention! Maybe that should be the new name for it - the sniff test :)
August 6th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)
I am totally stealing "the sniff test" for the new title of this piece and a better ending! LOL

But yes, that was it, the places I don't linger were exactly what needed the attention.

I also did a highlighting exercise where I put all the dialog in one color and all the actions in another color. It made me look at the chapter differently.
August 6th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC)
not so random commenter
I am glad to hear that it sounds like your class is helping :0)
August 6th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
Re: not so random commenter
Thanks. It's been very enlightening so far.
( 9 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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