Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Writing a Book is Like Washing a Dog

I have dogs. Anyone who knows me knows that much. I have quite a few dogs. I have inside dogs and outside dogs. I even have a couple of cats who THINK they are dogs. As a result, I know a lot about washing dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, long haired dogs and short haired dogs - you name it, I can wash it. The key to washing any dog is submission. You have to convince him (or her) that he WANTS a bath. And failing that, you have to wrestle him into submission.

My writing these days is a lot like washing a reluctant dog. I have all of my supplies in order, everything is lined up - hose, nozzle, buckets, soap, flea shampoo, towels. In writing once you have your basic plot, your characters, your setting and an idea of how the story goes you're as ready as a dog washer with a full tub and a handful of soap. And THAT is where the trouble begins. Because, horror of horror, your book has become A RELUCTANT DOG !

No matter what you do, no matter how hard you coax, wheedle, wrestle and demand your story simply refuses to get in the tub! Worse, sometimes it shimmies and shakes like a Vegas show girl until you lose your grip on it and end up chasing it from one end of the dog run to the other while the hose snakes around and soaks you and everything else in sight EXCEPT what you want it to soak - the DOG! Your words and ideas and plot threads scatter and roll around like bottles of shampoo after two large dogs decide to chase each other all over your bathing equipment splashing muddy water all over you AND the heretofore clean towels.

What do you do? You clean up, turn off the water, give the two large dogs (AKA The Idiot Brothers) your most ferocious glare and decide to start over. This time with something a bit smaller.

Lets say you can't wrestle the entire book at once. Lets say you decide to tackle something smaller, like a scene, aka a small dog. Seems simple, right? What could possibly go wrong? You're a writer. You can handle one small scene. Yeah, right. I'm a former veterinary technician (five years experience in an animal ER) and I even ran a humane society shelter for a year. And all it takes to whoop my butt and leave me a wet sopping mess spitting out flea shampoo suds and chasing a small dog all over the house with a towel is the IDEA that I can take on one twelve pound chihuahua. Wrong! I'd rather wrestle a ticked off alligator in a Louisiana swamp than bathe the "Dog from Hell" as my brothers call my chihuahua, Frodo.

The only thing that can whoop my butt faster is trying to write a scene when nothing and nobody in the entire scenario wants to cooperate. I mean, it is bad when the furniture in the scene refuses to cooperate. I put my hero and my heroine in a room together, furnish it and...NOTHING. They stand there like a couple of dachshunds looking at a tub full of nice warm water and say "You want me to go in THERE?" My hero and heroine stare at the bed with those same pitiful expressions and nothing I do can convince them to cooperate.


So, what do you do when your story turns into a reluctant dog? What happens when your carefully plotted out story turns on you and runs like a big blond retriever mix with the IQ of a block of wood the minute you turn on the hose? How do you wrestle it into submission? And once you do are you so worn out you forgot why you wanted it in the tub in the first place?

Any and all suggestions, war stories and just plain horror stories are appreciated. Now, if you'll excuse me I'm either going to wash my hero with flea soap or put my heroine alone in a room with a twelve pound chihuahua and a hose and see what happens.

18 comments:

Carla Swafford said...

Funny blog. My mom made me wash her poodle when I was teenager. That dog and I never saw eye-to-eye after those years. It was a mean pink toed and ribbon wearing stinker.

Kind of like you said, Louisa, take small chunks out of it. One scene at a time. I have a book I've been writing that I hate some days. But I'm more stubborn than that poodle and I'm slowly adding words that hopefully are interesting.

Plus I've been involved with Jennifer Echols's SHAME challenge on her blog. I'm a slow writer and I've written nearly 20,000 words in two months because of it.

Good luck with your latest book.

Louisa Cornell said...

I am SO glad to hear that I am not the only one who hates my book at times. My poor CP is going nuts listening to me whine about how much I hate this book. I love the story. I love the characters (most of the time,) but some days the writing is like a root canal without anesthesia!

Louisa Cornell said...

And your Mom's poodle sounds like my aunt's dog, FiFi. That dog lived over 20 years and I think the last ten were lived on meanness alone. That dog hated EVERYONE, except my aunt. My cousins used to make a game of plotting FiFi's demise!

Carla Swafford said...

Same with mom's dog, Babette. She would attack anyone who came close to mom's purse. Haven't thought of that dog in years. Let's see mom got her in 1969 and the dog lived until my oldest was 4-5 years old. 16 years old. WOW!

Jeanie said...

Hilarious, Louisa. We all struggle to put it on the page. I never quite thought about it like washing a dog, but it is an apt description. What I hate, though, is when your 'dog' gets out of the tub and it's all skinny and wimpy looking instead of big and substantial, like you thought it was.

Jeanie said...

P.S. Your critique partner just turned to me and said, "Has Louisa ever considered buying a new dog?"

Louisa Cornell said...

Yep, Jeanie! I can completely relate. Once you realize all of that scrubbing has resulted in a skinny, wet, slick, ugly version of what you THOUGHT it looked like you have to spend a heckuva lotta time fluffing and brushing to get it looking right. Sigh.

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, I'm washing the dog my critique partner and YOU told me to wash, Jeanie! And the more I wash the uglier it gets!

Jeanie said...

It may look like a mutt now, but there's a pure blood under there somewhere.

Keli Gwyn said...

What a fun post. Love the analogy. When I encounter the Dog Days of a story and I have to tweeze the words out, I lower my expectations and accepted that I may have to focus on a small dog that day. Another possibility is to leave the ornery little rascal, find a nice big friendly dog of a scene I know will flow, and give it my attention. Buoyed by that success, I'm often in a better place to best the little beastie.

JoAnn said...

Well, I've tried only one time to wash a dog and swore I would never ever do that again.

When my husband and I were newly married and much stupider than we are now, we tried to wash our cat. He and I were standing in the bathroom holding the cat on the counter and I read the instructions on the shampoo bottle. Step number one: "Thoroughly wet cat." He and I looked at each other, burst into laughter, and went out to dinner.

I brake for pet groomers. :-)

As for writing, I have no advice. I'm in the middle of that mess now.

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh Keli, I like the idea of finding a friendlier dog to wash! Although sometimes those friendly ones are REALLY hard to find!

Louisa Cornell said...

Jo Ann, I like your solution even better! Just forget about it and go out to dinner!

My three completely useless male cats are actually quite good in the bath. As they are all so obese they can't run away and they are entirely too lazy to fight back I can usually wash them with only plaintive crying as if they are being murdered. Hmm. I've written some scenes like that too. My 24 pound cat, Bagheera, will just lay in the tub and let you do whatever you like. Why can't I find a story like that to write?

Susan Gee Heino said...

Love the analogy, Louisa! Very, very insightful. I can smell it from here. LOL

I think the important thing in bathing dogs is to build a rapport. After a few baths, the dog begins to trust that you are not going to drown him and that afterwards he'll get all sorts of love and attention for being such a good doggy, a clean doggy, a pretty doggy. (For some dogs this takes several more baths than others!)

I know I'm like that with my writing. When life has gotten in the way and I've let a few days slip by since I last put my brain into my ms, it's really tough getting those words to flow again.

But when I force myself to sit there, to keep plugging at it even when I'm tired or have "too many" other things on my plate, eventually I see that my hard work and suffering are producing pages. I might even like some of these pages! I find little by little I begin to trust myself as a writer and these darned characters seem a bit more willing to do as they're told.

True, some dogs (books) are more stubborn than others, so for those you just have to figure the parts that didn't get washed today will eventually get washed tomorrow. I think that's the key--showing up at the tub day after day and being willing to get your sleeves wet. And the floor. And the walls. And the ceiling...

That said, we just adopted a bloodhound-coonhound mix. OMG! That first bath was something I'm not really looking forward to again... LOL

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL Susan I can see and smell the visual on your washing your bloodhound too! Kind of like washing a Buick that won't sit still. And I must confess that coming to the tub every day is NOT something I do consistently and that may well be my problem. Some days I look at the tub, look at the dog and whine "Do I HAVE to?" It doesn't happen often but when it does it can last for several days and then when I come back it is so hard to get back to work!

M.V.Freeman said...

You made me laugh Louisa...

What do I do? Wrestle with it until I can get it to where I want it....granted it takes a WHOLE lot longer than I'd like....

But eventually...if I have not vapor-locked, I get to rest and realize, I DID IT. LOL

Christine said...

I'm tackling the current revision one scene at a time. There's been cutting and writing and wrestling with the reluctant pups, but I've also given myself permission not to meet a word count. At first I was saying oh, i need to reach 1500 words a day to meet my lofty goal of 80,000 words by June 20. But the goal paralyzed me. Now I just sit down and write for a few hours and hope I come away with a scene done or almost done. I figure it will be finished when it is finished. *sigh* I am submitting to the story's desire to slide out slowly instead of quickly because it needs me to sit and take my time to get it right.

Love your dog's name: FRODO.

Great blog.

Cari Hislop said...

Louisa, you have such a brilliant voice and such hilarious stories. If your characters keep throwing temper tantrums you could punish them by making them stand there while you start an autobiography.

If I've ever washed a dog I've blanked it out, however there was a long haired Persian cat someone asked me me to babysit for a month or two. I (who grew up in a family where all the cats ran off to live with neighbors) was asked to bathe it. I shall NEVER forget that unholy nightmare. I don't know who was more traumatized; me, my roommate or the cat. The cat got bathed once...and then I couldn't bear to repeat the experience...and I felt so guilty about letting my friend (the owner of the cat) down I never spoke to her again. If I ever own a cat and have to leave it with someone I'll make sure I've paid in advance for the cat to be professionally tended. If only for the sake of the cat sitter!