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  • November 18th, 2009 | 9:57 AM
Of Dogs and Writing - waiting for lightbulbs

In addition to her basic commands Cassie knows a few tricks like shake, crawl, take a nap, tell me a secret, wave goodbye and peek-a-boo. The fact that she can do these things doesn't make me a brilliant trainer. It just makes me a good waiter.

Teaching a dog a trick requires a lot of patience. One you figure out what you want to teach the dog to do you have to break it down into steps and then link it together. And then you use up a lot of treats and a lot of time waiting for the light bulb to click on. Even with smart dogs like Cassie it takes time to get consistent results.

When teaching her something new I start off filled with proud mama enthusiasm about how wonderful it is going to be to show off the trick to my friends and how smart Cassie is so of course she'll pick it up really quickly. And then the training starts. Suddenly I'm thinking, "She's never going to get this. She's never going to make the connection between the words take a nap and the fact that I want her to sit, then lay down, then lay on her side, then put her down and close her eyes until I tell her she can wake up. Not going to happen."

But because many of my decisions in life are fueled by enthusiasm, I go ahead and try. I lure her with treats. I give command words. More treats. More waiting. A lot of near misses. And then...then I start to see the light bulbs going on. The first time I give the command "take a nap" and she goes through all the motions correctly I get all excited and scream YES! so loudly that she pops up and starts jumping on me. So I slow down again. And eventually she gets it. When she does it correctly she gets a treat. We race into my husband's office and she performs again. And again. And now it's a regular part of her routine.

I recently finished an eight week workshop that I used to jumpstart some stalled places in Flyboy. Once a week I turned in ten pages of my WIP to be workshopped by the editor, Jill Sanatpolo, who was leading the class, as well as fourteen other classmates. Once a week I read fourteen other stories. Once a week I got tons of feedback on my book. Now that the class is over I'm faced with trying to assimilate all that feedback. These were smart writers and smart critiquers and a smart editor so I have of questions they've asked me about the story, suggestions for improvements and brainstorms that I had asked for around certain plot issues.

I spent yesterday looking at all the feedback and feeling overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of it all. First I merged everything into one giant file. Bad idea. All those comments in the margins made me feel even worse. Finally I decided to just break it down, week by week again. I created a new master file and took just one person's feedback, merged it and then went step by step through every comment. Then I took a second person's feedback and did the same thing. I know there are people who could read all the feedback, make a few notes, and then boom, move forward, but I don't work that way. I have to see it all, touch it all. I have to comb through the sentences again and again and again until finally the light bulbs start to click on and I can feel myself begin to "get" it. By the time I got to the third person's feedback I was starting to feel that little tingle that tells me something is connecting. The comment from one person and the question from another person triggered a different idea for me. I jotted down a few sentences. Then another. Then another. When I looked up again I'd written a few new paragraphs.

This is my process. A lot of trying. A lot of waiting. Waiting for light bulbs to turn on and shine a light on the path I need to take.
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 9 comments — Leave comment )
November 18th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
Trying and waiting and patience and faith. Sounds about right to me.
November 30th, 2009 07:40 am (UTC)
Yes...it's that patience thing I have the most trouble with. :)
(Deleted comment)
November 30th, 2009 07:42 am (UTC)
I missed this the other day. So sorry, Melodye. It was SOOOO daunting to move forward with my own stuff and keep up with the critiques. I was thrilled to have the retreat after the class so I could just veg.

I was lucky that this was such a great group. It was an advanced class and not cheap ($500) and the editor who was guiding it set the pace.
November 18th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC)
Trust. I think we just have to trust. And do the hardest thing...be patient. :)
November 30th, 2009 07:42 am (UTC)
Trust and patience. Two things I stink at. :)
November 19th, 2009 12:24 am (UTC)
Oh, my -- that's a lot of feedback all at once. I'd be overwhelmed, too. Good for you for taking it bird by bird....
November 30th, 2009 07:43 am (UTC)
It was so much feedback that I finally just set it aside and will look at it later, after I get to the end of this draft. I think I've read it enough to know where the big holes are that need addressing before I can forward. The rest can wait.
November 19th, 2009 04:49 pm (UTC)
Sometimes the feedback is longer than the ms! As for those light bulbs, well, I'm still trying find out where the electrical outlets are.
November 30th, 2009 07:43 am (UTC)
Yeah, and when it comes to plugging in, I probably have US plugs for a European outlet, or some such thing.
( 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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