Maizy and I have faithfully been attending obedience training every Friday morning for the last two weeks. The morning starts off with socialization and playtime. The dogs and owners gather in this beautiful fenced yard. The idea is to give the dogs an opportunity to burn off energy before they go into the structure of class time. It also teaches them how to interact with other dogs.
I was really nervous about Maizy interacting with other dogs. She doesn’t exactly play well others. My son took her to Pet Smart and she bit another dog on the nose. The training and behavior manager, Mailey McLaughlin, explained that the dogs needed to learn to interact with one another. Apparently, some dogs need to be growled at in order to learn to respect other dogs. And if they got too rowdy in the play yard, Mailey sprays them with her super-soaker to break up the negative interaction –which works really well, by the way.
The first week Maizy was apprehensive and didn’t stray too far away from my son or me. But she didn’t bite any of the other dogs, so I was really happy.
The second week she was a bit more adventurous. She briefly mingled with the other dogs, but never fully engaged. She seemed to prefer to explore the yard alone. A few times I noticed her watching the other dogs from a distances. Like a first time mother, I wanted to encourage her to go play with the other dogs, thinking she would have so much more fun if she would go and play. But then it occurred to me that Maizy reminded me of myself whenever I participate in a writers’ group.
No matter how excited I am about getting together with other writers, I feel some apprehensive about sharing my writing. I know there are places in it where I have held back or haven’t really fully engaged. And in some ways I’m a lot like Maizy – ready to bite someone’s head off if they get too close. I get frustrated when the group challenges my work. By challenge I mean question the development of the story or express confusion in a scene. Their comments seem to confirm the fear that if I knew what I was doing, I would get it right the first time. And then when I read their work, I get discouraged because they seem to get it – whatever it is. I feel as if I am in over my head. I vacillate between thinking the group doesn’t know what they are talking about and questioning whether or not I should write at all. Sounds schizophrenic, doesn’t it.
But as I watched the dogs socialize and play, it occurred to me that even if Maizy doesn’t engage in the play she is still learning from the other dogs. She will keep her distance until she feels safe enough to engage. And I’m guessing by the end of the six weeks she’ll be more comfortable with the other dogs.
Perhaps the writing lesson is that writers need writer’s groups and workshops for the same reasons the dogs need playtime and socialization – to burn off stream (pent up anxiety or stress) and to learn to interact with other writers (and readers). We need to get out of our heads. See what other people are working on. Give our ideas an opportunity to run around and be heard.
The resistance we have to being critiqued lies in the fact that we look at feedback as criticism rather than an exercise to engage our thinking. The conversations we have in our groups create synergy so that even when you discuss someone else’s work, you gain insight into your own work. I’ve been a part of a writers’ group for several years. Our monthly meetings keep me writing. Their feedback – positive and negative – has played an integral part in my growth as a writer. But I know I don’t get as much out of the group as I could if I fully engaged in my writing.
Maizy and I go back to class later today. I can’t wait to see what she does during socialization and playtime. I don’t meet with my writing group again until the end of the month, but my plan is to write with abandon so that the next time we meet I’m fully engaged in the process.