Writing and career help, from my dog


Spoiler: my dog is not a writer. However, he needs walks regularly and that, I’ve found, helps my writing.

Dash is a black Lab cross, which means as far as the Humane Society could tell he looks like a Lab but that’s clearly not all that’s in his parentage.  He’s just over two years old now. If I wanted to walk my legs off taking him around the neighbourhood, he would be very happy — and still not be tired when we got home.

So: we go on regular walks, weather permitting, as well as the dog parks. That’s the good, healthy thing about walking the dog in the dead of winter: you go outside even if you’d rather not. Fresh air and all that. Also, nobody in their right mind is out walking at night when it’s -20 to -30 C (plus windchill! Bonus!), unless they also have a dog. You dress for it and off you go.

Of course I don’t actually do any writing as we explore the frequently empty streets and Dash makes a dash for any suspected rabbit (there are many) that he will never, ever catch, because they understand fences and he doesn’t. But Dash is a patient listener if I feel like talking to myself. Or just not talking and thinking something through.

So I work out plot holes, or themes that need development, or character motivations, or witty lines of dialogue that are 100 per cent never as witty when I try to write them down later as they do when I ad-lib them for the shadows of bare trees over snow. It’s wool-gathering. Not quite daydreaming, though I do that too. (Where should I submit my work? What kind of story should I write for [X] anthology?) That may not be as concrete as fiddling with elements of a novel in my mind, but I do find, since we got Dash, I don’t have to figure everything out on the page when I sit down to write. Some of it is already there, waiting to be written.

The funny thing is, I rarely went on walks before Dash came into our lives. I was always walking to somewhere or from somewhere. While you can “gathering wool” while cycling or driving, I wouldn’t recommend it. But a dog-co-piloted walk is about the right speed.

I should add that Dash sometimes also helps me at work. My day job is copy editor at the Winnipeg Free Press, and thanks to our Newsroom Dogs project, on certain days of the week employees can bring their furry friends to work. Dash didn’t exactly get up to speed on serial commas or Canadian Press style, but I think he helped a few of us have a more productive day. You can read more about that here.

So, while I know many writers post photos of their pets unhelpfully sitting on their keyboards (Dash does like to nose around, putting his snout right in the way when I am writing, as he is doing right now), I figured I should also commend the doughty dog for getting me off my rear, prompting some free-form thought, and sometimes helping me worry at a writing problem without the pressure of staring at a blank screen.

Thanks Dash. One day I will write a story in which a mighty black Lab saves the day. In the meantime, thanks for saving a little part of my day, every day.

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