There is no way I would have finished my first novella without my dog. Sure, that looks a bit ridiculous, even to me as I write it, but that doesn’t make the fact any less true that there is no way I could have developed as a writer the way I have without the furry beast who spends so many hours sleeping at my feet.
So how exactly does having a furry muse help the writing process? I’m glad you asked (you didn’t) and I’ll be happy to answer in this handy list.
Obviously, having any kind of pet provides companionship. But I could also get that from friends, family, colleagues, and people that approach me just to practice their English. (That used to be a much bigger part of my life than it is now.) All the preceding scenarios require human interaction, however. The quality of a dog’s companionship is fundamentally different.
First of all, dogs are just happy to be wherever you are. You don’t have to worry about all the social niceties like saying please, not saying “fuck,” and/or wearing pants. So that’s all pretty awesome. In fact, you don’t even need to talk to your dog at all. During long writing sessions, I make the occasional eye contact, remind my dog that she is, in fact, a good girl, and occasionally give her a scratch behind the ears. Otherwise, she’s pretty happy wandering from one soft place to sleep to another with only the occasional nudge to remind me that she’s in the room.
Of course, you don’t have to stay silent around your dog. In fact, she’ll listen to whatever batshit crazy thing you have to say and probably wag her tail at the same time.
The only way you’ll ever get someone to listen to you as attentively as your dog is to pay them. The intensity with which my pooch hangs on my every word is only comparable to that of a therapist. A very well compensated therapist. All your dog needs in return for the service is a little food, water, exercise, and affection.
And you can speak more freely with a puppy* than you can with any human. Your therapist could still go home to a significant other and say, “You won’t believe the nutbar I spoke to today. I need, like, ALL the wine. Ever.” Or however therapists talk.
But a dog can take your deepest darkest secrets and that shit stays in the vault. Forever. And if you’re trying to work out the most horrific way your serial killer dispatches his victims, then talk it out with you dog and no one else. No one you love needs to know you spent hours wondering whether the victim should be stabbed or bludgeoned to death with his own femur. That sort of knowledge makes family dinners awkward. Your furry bundle of joy only knows you’re her person, and loves you no matter what craziness you have rolling around in your dome.
Don’t be fooled by the movies: writing is no picnic. It’s hard work just like any other job. All those movie authors who spend their days mingling, banging at a keyboard, and engaging in charming alcohol abuse are just fictional constructs. Instead, most writers have to balance our writing, promotion, bills, housework, family commitments, and the crushing certainty that this is the worst piece of shit ever scrawled on paper. Naturally, that can be a bit stressful. If you have writer friends, you can get together and vent about it. (Maybe more charming alcohol abuse will be involved.) But ultimately, you’re going to have to write on your own.
Unless you have a dog!
Once you have your hairy little Buddha, you have industrial-grade stress relief at your fingertips. (Literally.) For animal lovers, just being the presence of a non-human creature is enough to elicit a sense of calm. For the good stuff, there’s always hugs, scratches, cuddles, and spooning for an afternoon nap.
And as we have already established, when things get to be too much and the crazy needs to be let out, dogs are great listeners. They demand so little of their owners, just the occasional walk. Of course, that benefits us as much as them.
If you have a dog (a healthy dog) and you either carry it around or push it in a stroller, I have only one thing to say: fucking don’t. Dogs need exercise. Lucky for both of you, so do writers. This is one of my favorite parts of having my sweet fur factory. To be a decent owner, if forces me to get away from the writing from time to time and out of the house. You know, during daylight. With pants on and everything.
I know, I keep mentioning pants and the lack of them, but they’re just so constrictive, amirite? And writing one of the more prestigious pants-optional professions.
But I digress. Pants, Shorts. A skirt of whatever length is comfortable. At least one is required to get out there and get active, and dogs have a knack for getting their people out of the house. For those of us who write, this is absolutely essential. As a sedentary task, writing can really negatively impact your health. Equally important is regular, light exercise [link]. Lucky for you, the delightful furball looking up at you so adoringly would love to go out with you. Just remember your little plastic baggies. There may be more than walking involved, and you don’t want to be the asshole who leaves steaming turds lying around.
Best of all, walking has an amazing way of getting the creative juices flowing. Many a book has been written in the head of someone walking a dog. It’s my favorite kind of meditation, and the act of walking my dog has helped me plot out countless chapters, short stories, blog posts, and everything else. My writing may happen in the quiet of my study, but the creative process happens while wandering a park or university campus. You’ll probably find the same thing. Getting out of the house is the same as getting out of your own head, and you’ll be amazed what you find out there.
Of course, with all the writing and walking and being an adult, you’re going to need another ingredient, the one thing that brings it all together: discipline.
I get it, all right… Being an adult if fucking hard. In your own head, you may still think you’re still a kid, but it seems like life keeps dog-piling you. (See what I did there? When are puns not hilarious?) There are bills, relationships, probably a day job or two. Then you have your writing. And of course, there’s your dog. A sentient life form that loves you and relies on you for all your needs. I promise you that you’re up to the challenge of caring for that darling creature, but it’s going to require discipline. In other words, you need to be able to make plans, set a schedule, and stick to your commitments to make sure that animal is happy and healthy. In many ways, it’s the same as writing a book.
To effectively write a book, or anything longer than a haiku, you’re going to need the ability to make plans, stick to those plans, and follow up on the (same) plans. It’s going to require some discipline. And having a happy, healthy canine in the house also requires discipline. You need to get up at certain times to let your friend relieve herself. You need to give her food, water, and regular affection. A solid routine is as much a part of having a well-behaved pet as it is about getting your daily word count out. (If we’re being honest, though, I’m much better at taking care of my pup than I am about banging out my daily words.)
But it’s a start. It’s a good habit to be in, and knowing that you have A, B, and C to do, it’s that much easier to schedule time for writing the Xs, Ys, and Zs.
Alternatives to Adopting a Dog
But…what if you can’t adopt a dog? Frankly, if you’re allergic, you’re mostly fucked. There are certain breeds that are hypoallergenic , but barring serious pharmaceutical intervention, you may just be shit out of luck. Sorry.
So what if you live in a tiny apartment? Or somewhere that doesn’t allow pets? How about if you travel for your day job and can’t provide adequate care? Though not insurmountable problems, lifestyle can be a difficult thing to change right away.
There is an alternative for all the little lifestyle problems getting in the way: animal shelters.
Find a local animal shelter and ask if they need volunteers. Often they will reach through the phone and pull you through the wires. Animal shelters often need volunteers to do spend time with the animals waiting for adoption, so you can talk and play with a few new pals. Shelter dogs also get less exercise than most, so you can take them for walks. And you definitely need to plan out your time to go down to the shelter and do the right thing. There are good times to be had by all.
And best of all, you’ll be a better writer for it. That’s why I tell myself every time I neglect the keys for a hug, a kiss, or a walk from my favorite furry girl.