Stuck for inspiration? Get a dog!

lukeAs far as I am concerned there is no writer’s tool in my house that is more valuable to me than my dogs. Naturally, if I’m in full flow, the fact of having to break off and walk them can seem a bit of a pain in the neck. Old Dog will appear, apologetically, at the top of the steps down to the kitchen. He’ll look at me to see if I’m moving, and if I’m not, he’ll slope off back to his bed in the living room for a while before he comes back again to check if I’m ready. If I should happen to move, to go to the loo or get a book or something, he’s there like a shot, all big brown mournful eyes, “Is it time?”

bbSmall Dog meanwhile is deep in her beanbag, unmoving. She’s not interested in what I’m doing. Walks? Meh, she can take or leave them. She’s certainly not prepared to give me the impression she’s bothered. I’m not sure if this attitude is more teenager or cat.

So. Sometimes they’re a disruption. Most often though, they’re a pleasant break, a chance to say, “Right, there’s 1,000 words (or whatever) done,” and start afresh when I get back.

They show their true value when I have no idea what to write, when I’m stuck in a hole with nowhere to go. Take this morning. I was fannying around doing work-avoidance things (like housework; I only do housework when I can’t write) and it got to the time when Old Dog decided we ought to be going out.

Now the problem I was trying to avoid was that although I knew where my characters were going to end up, I seemed to be lost in a sea of stuff that didn’t seem to be getting them there and my subplot was drifting too far away from the main thread.

Was I thinking about this when I stepped out of the door with the dogs? No. I was wondering if it would rain and trying to decide what to have for dinner.

Was I thinking about it as we crossed the fence into the field where there are sometimes cattle you can’t see from the edge? Of course not. I was wondering where the cattle were.

Was I thinking about it as we walked along the riverbank? Nope. Still not. Watching a heron take off and fly overhead.Wondering if that fisherman had caught anything. Concentrating on where to put my feet in the boggy bit.

But somehow, by the time I was on the way back along the road, things had slotted into place. I couldn’t tell you when I started thinking about my book. I didn’t think I was thinking about it. But all of a sudden, walking along the last stretch, I knew why my characters were doing what they were doing, how to get them to the end, and how to tie the subplot back in. It was all there in my head, like something I’d remembered rather than something I’d created.

I’m not saying dogs are vital to everyone’s writing process. Maybe it’s cooking or cycling or playing computer games. But I think what’s important is to have some activity that allows you to empty your mind of the thing that’s puzzling you and allow it to simmer away in your unconscious.

It doesn’t always work. But it works often enough for me that I know I’ll never be without a dog.

Claire Watts

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