The Writing Life

Writing Lessons Learned at Obedience Training

My new puppy, Maizy (as in Maize and Blue), is as cute as a button, but doesn’t listen. She’d be darn right ‘bad’ if it weren’t for the fact that she has learned a few things from our older dog.  So I signed her up for obedience training.

The first class of training was only for humans. An orientation they called it. I was more than a little disappointed.  I wanted to get her straight. Well, turns out she wasn’t the one who needed to be straightened out. The training and behavior manager at Atlanta Humane Society, Mailey McLaughlin, M.Ed, blew me a way with her humor and matter-of-fact way of explaining dog behavior. I learned a lot.

And surprisingly, the three objectives of obedience training are fundamental to the writing life.

  1. Build a relationship – Obedience training is the key to establishing a bond between you and your dog. You have to spend consistent time daily with your dog teaching her what you want. So it is with writing. When you write daily, you grow in your craft. It’s easier to face a blank screen. You begin to establish a bond with your muse and it learns that it can trust you to be there.  And once you have a strong relationship with your muse, the words flow.
  2. Reduce/remove confusion – Most of the behavior problems we experience with dogs happen because the dogs are confused about what is expected of them.  As their trainers we have to reduce or remove the confusion. We do this by knowing how to communicate with them. We also have to make sure that we are sending the correct message. This is key in writing. Writers need to know their audience, especially when you submit your work. We have to carefully manage our words and tone so that what we write says what we want it to say. It’s our job to remove any confusion so that our readers get the intended message.
  3. Have fun – Obedience training has to be fun for dogs so they are eager to learn. And as writers if we make writing fun, it will be a whole lot easier to do. Sometimes we write stuff that isn’t fun, but we can still enjoy the process. Bask in a well-placed word or a great sentence.  Take pleasure in those moments you pull away for the real world to play in the one you created on the screen.  Entertain yourself with your own cleverness.

Next week Maizy comes with me. We’ll learn sit, stay – also great training for writers.

3 thoughts on “Writing Lessons Learned at Obedience Training

  1. Great post, Kim! I think you might have so much to say about this analogy, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    I’ll just add that, for me, the confusion I need to remove is often confusion between me and the writing and has little to do with audience (who I tend to trust will be there if I figure it out for my own self). For instance, when I tell myself I’m going to sit down to write, I need to make sure that I’m not sitting down with email and Facebook and pretending that computer time is writing time, even if FB is a warm-up or an occasional break. Audience is important, but I need to be clear with myself about what I’m after and what voice I want to put out there into the world.

    1. I totally agree. Each time we revise we reduce confusion and more closer to the true meaning of the piece.

      I can’t wait until the next class. I really need the sit and stay lesson.

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