How the dog park rescued my writing

A while ago, I was struggling with my writing. It required a huge effort to come up with fresh plot twists and characters–everything I produced seemed oddly familiar, a rehash of something I’d written in the past. My “boys in the back room” kept betraying me, throwing up the same old-same old. No matter how hard I worked, the results sounded suspiciously close to something I’d already written. I briefly considered suing myself for plagiarism.

In desperation, I took a few weeks off from writing. During that respite I adopted a new puppy (a Lab/Shepherd mix named MacGregor, aka “Little Mac”). Little Mac is 50 pounds of energy with the attention span of a toddler (read: none). To save my sanity, he and I started spending lots of hours at our local dog park. There, Little Mac gets to run around with other dogs, and hopefully work off some of that insane puppy energy.

At the dog park, casual conversation flows easily between strangers. The most taciturn curmudgeon will usually melt into smiles when you compliment his canine buddy.

Stereotypes break down quickly as you watch people with their dogs. Young guys who are covered with tattoos and dressed like gang bangers often turn out to be the politest people at the park, with the best-behaved dogs.

I usually sit on a bench at the dog park, so my conversations are limited to the people who choose to sit beside me. I’ve met some incredible characters this way. Recently my bench partners included: a self-described ex-hippie jazz man who teaches music in the inner city; an Air Force officer who is between engagements in the Middle East; a woman who casually mentioned that she communicates with animals and (human) spirits.

Humans reveal a lot about themselves in the way they handle their dogs. Our park is divided into two areas, one for puppies and small dogs, the other for large dogs. Little Mac quickly outgrew the small-dog side of the fence, so we roll with the big hounds. Some humans seem fretful and anxious with their dogs, while others are completely oblivious to anything that’s going on. I get along best with the medium-energy humans–they tend to have the best-behaved dogs, perhaps not surprisingly.

After a few weeks of observing people and canines at the park, I came back to writing with a renewed energy. Maybe the outings didn’t have anything to do with it–maybe I just needed a break. But I find that my new routine is helping me recharge my imagination.

Have you ever needed to take a complete break from writing? Did you find anything that helped you revive  your muse?

13 thoughts on “How the dog park rescued my writing

  1. Yes, I need a complete break from fiction writing. I’m sort of taking one now. Sort of, because I wrote last night, but we’ll see. Still seems like work, but a little freshening up may still be required.

  2. Kathryn–great post!
    It is pretty interesting how people’s pets will mirror their master’s personalities. But, I think what really worked was that you got yourself “out there” and away from your keyboard.

    As my very prolific friend, Heather Graham, (more than 150 books in print) says, if you’re not out there living, you won’t have material for writing.”

    I think it’s a win-win situation. You get to enjoy life and use your experience to craft stories. Ahhhh. It’s a hard job, but . . . well, you know how the rest goes!

    xox, K.

  3. Breaks are important. I try to take one day off a week, and then a week off sometime during the year. It truly does recharge the batteries.

    Playing with a dog is a always a good thing, too.

  4. My husband and I usually stroll through the local flea market. It’s a great source of inspiration for me, and there’s no shortage of interesting characters.

    You’ll even find an occasional beer-drinking hillbilly at 9:00 in the morning. He knows it’s 5:00 pm somewhere.

  5. This is the second year I’ve taken the summer off from writing. At least I’m taking off from typing. After a week or so away, I find plot points, scenes, and ideas for new stories percolate into my consciousness without warning. I take a few notes, make some notations on a white board, and I’ll hit the ground running in September.

  6. Oh! Any topic that involves dogs and I’m in! They’re my favorite people. Writers are next. 😎

    And actually, I have a new wrinkle in my dog/writing life and I’m not sure if its going to be good or bad.

    I just moved to a new apartment in a much better (and blissfully quieter) neighborhood.

    The only difference is, I used to have a little back yard where Aztec could go do her business. Now everytime she has to go out, it is on a leash, and it amounts to 20 minutes of sniffing for the right spot, and 30 seconds to get the job done.

    To say I’m impatient is an understatement. But that will ultimately be good for me (if it doesn’t kill me). But, like the dog park, it is going to force me to be more observant of my world, which I also think will be a good thing.

    Hasn’t led to any writing breakthroughs just yet though. 😎

    BK Jackson

  7. Dog park stories? Count me in. Tell me more. The tales of the dog park bench could make at least a short story or two all by themselves. I also love the fact that a lot of people actually look like their dogs.

  8. Mark, I’m all for taking an extended break. Worked wonders for me. Kathleen, it’s true that I was running low on “out there living,” so that’s probably just what I needed. Jim, a once a week break sounds like a good idea. I should do that as part of my writing schedule. Diane, I love the beer-drinking hillbilly. That sun is over the yard arm, someplace! Dana, I wish I could go the whole summer, but I’m afraid I’m such a sloth by nature, I might never start up again! JR, way to admit the non-problem! BK, Little Mac has never actually made it to our back yard. He is too afraid of the spiral stairs. He does his business on the upper deck, alas, unless I walk him! Mike, it’s true that the energy of human and dog usually match–hopefully not always the looks!

  9. My breaks are usually forced by the need to pay for a house and food…ie. day job and family stuff.

    Right now I’ve fallen into one such break between baseball season, scout camps back to back with the family, travel and a pending IG inspection on the day job and a need to start exercising before I break my office chair I’m in a slump. At least until things chill a bit. But hey, maybe during this time something brilliant will come to mind and my next work will be super-duper brilliant.

  10. I love the descriptions of the dog park. It’s not something we have in the UK. Not that I’m aware of anyway. I just get to walk my dog and maybe nod at a passing dog walker.

    As I’m still in the middle of my first, first draft, I can’t really comment on new idea’s when I’m still working that first idea. Though I am already having idea’s for books in the series. If I’m getting all worked up with a section though, I tend to walk away from it, give it some room and do something else. I love reading and this can often get me back into a better place to move my wip forward. I also stop and spend some more quality time with my children. (providing the teenager lets me!)

    I’m kind of wishing we had a dog park now though.

  11. Rebecca, I love the way you described your “first work energy.” Keep building on that. Basil, you sound like a busy man–enjoy that well-deserved break!

  12. I do sometimes take a long break after a spate of writing a few books. I’ve even tried to retire. It lasts about two weeks and then I get the creative urge again. Try to NOT write for however long and see when your mind starts yearning to pour out words on the page. You might think the Muse is gone forever, but it’s only hiding until the time is ripe for it to come out and play again. Meanwhile, it’s absorbing the experiences you’re having and the people you’re meeting.

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