What I Learned From Old Dog School

Sunday, July 12, 2020
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. However, I think they’re wrong. A dog (even a female one; I’m trying to keep this post rated “G,” if you get my drift) who’s grizzled around the mouth and a bit past their prime can still learn something. Or so I’m hoping.

Earlier this week, Radar and I went to a training class for adult dogs (as opposed to puppies). Radar’s a handsome blonde 82-pound boy. He just turned 6. I’m interested in him becoming a therapy dog for my students. Ideally, I’d take him once a week to hang out with me. However, that much sensory stimulation wears a dog out (6 or 7 hours a day is sometimes too much for them to handle), so it depends on how he’ll do.

Do you now understand why it's hard to be stern with him?

It also depends on if we can unteach all the bad habits we’ve either encouraged (“Here! Jump up on me and give me a hug!”) or the ones we’ve not been too stern with (“Down?”).

Yeah, that question mark after the “Down” command is not a typo. Apparently, I don’t always speak like it’s a statement (“Bad!”) or a command (“Down!”). According to the teachers, who are phenomenal, I ask my furry guy questions, when I should be talking in a stern voice.

As we paraded up and down one of the teacher’s driveway, showing our “walk” and “sit” and “down” and “recall” skills, I learned some things about myself as a writer. Like the great and powerful Cathy C. Hall, I’m going to try and connect my everyday mundane life with the craft of writing. (Not to imply that Cathy’s life is boring. With Libby and her reign of terror, Cathy’s days are never dull.) Here are the things I learned at the old dog class:

  • Say it with an exclamation mark, or at least a period. When people ask you what you do, say, “I’m a writer.” Don’t whimper about it and explain that you don’t have any books published yet, or you’ve only got a few self-published ones, or you’ve only been published in magazines and anthologies. Say it with pride. I’m a writer. Say it with conviction, the way I’m supposed to say “No!” when Radar leaps at us out of unbridled enthusiasm.

  • Be consistent. I need to rebuff Radar each time he leaps up at me. I need to keep his choke collar right under his chin and high on his head (where he doesn’t like it) until the both of us can walk the right way. I also need to be consistent with my querying and my submitting and my writing accountability group. (I’ve been AWOL from them for the past 42 years. They don’t even remember my name.) Being consistent will help my writing muscles form habits.

  • Practice. Practice doesn’t usually make perfect, but it does make it better. This summer I was part of a query group and a blurb group through SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Honing my query and my blurb made them tighter and more engaging. Hopefully as I practice walking with Radar, I’ll learn to be the alpha dog.

How about you? What “old dog” habits are you trying to break, and what tricks or skills are you hoping to learn?

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school language arts teacher, a freelance writer and a dog rescuer.  She's desperate to either get agent representation or a publishing contract for her middle grades novel. (Make her an offer! She'll keep you in fudge for the rest of your life if you snap up her manuscript.)
If you'd like to read more of her writing, check out her blog.


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I need to stop talking myself out of querying or submitting. I find a market that looks good and then. . . find an excuse. I saw a Tweet this week from an agent who pointed out that when she announces what she is looking for in terms of mss, women contact her and ask permission to submit their work. Men just send it in.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Awww... Radar is so cute! I would ask him questions, too. He looks smart. :)

Consistency is a big one for me too, Sioux. I am a binge writer. When I feel inspired, I can write 10k in one day. But I go for months without writing sometimes. That is not what professional writers do. They write every day, and if not that then every week on certain days. One of my writing instructors says she shows up every morning at 5am to her writing desk, and if she can't write, she sits there for an hour; but the practice of showing up is important. You're making time for your craft; you're making a writing life.

That query and blurb group sounds helpful. I especially enjoy writing queries.

Sue: I've read the same tweet from editors at lit journals, too!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Congrats, Sioux, you've learned the first lesson in the Cathy C. Hall of writing a blog post: Go with what you got. In your case, dog training school...whereas I, I have...Libs. And the occasional Junior Hall. And it's not exactly excitement plus around here. :-)

Anyway, I have a similar problem to Sue...I need to work on my follow-through. I start projects, novels, articles, whatever and sort of talk myself out of them, thinking they're not that good. I should probably finish them and let other people tell me that. Hahahhahaa!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--As determined and fierce of a writer as you are, the fact that you do the hard work (the researching, the drafting, the writing, the revising) and then don't go full-steam ahead with querying is surprising. You should... Well, I should follow my own advice. Seriously, the worst they can do is send you a rejection email, or no response at all. Submit. As prolific and in demand of a writer as you are, you should know you have the talent.

Angela--The idea of "showing up" every day is so, so smart. I have the same philosophy with my students when we do NaNoWriMo. Every school day in November, I expect us to sit together and write. We all sit at our desks, and the words come. Sometimes in a flood. Sometimes in a trickle.

(If I can't resist the charms of Radar, I'll send him your way. :)

Cathy--Like Sue, you surprise me. You've dominated the whole Korean children's book market... and you're hesitant to follow through? As Gomer Pyle would say, "For shame, for shame, for shame!" ;) I'm sure if you finished the pieces, your writing friends would not say they stink... so, give them a chance.

(And just about every picture I see of Libs, she's on her back, relaxing. I'm sure you're mistaken about her.)

Linda O'Connell said...

Write fearlessly,rest, revise, then send. Sounds easy. This takes days or weeks sometimes, butwhen inspiration hits, I MUST write. Radra will make a great therapy dog.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Great article full of writing gems Sioux. I definitely want to stick out my chest and start saying, "I am a writer!" with an exclamation point.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Linda--I know you write fearlessly, because you are so prolific and have so many publishing credits to your name. You are somebody I TRY to emulate.

Jeanine--How is that book of yours coming along? (I'm not going to stop bugging you until the first draft is done, so you might as well surrender. ;)

Thanks. Writing is a process that's so full of rejection, we have to stand proud, and at least act like we're fearless.

Renee Roberson said...

I don't think I could be stern with Radar. That face! How can you turn down dog hugs? And yes, you should proclaim yourself as a writer without the question mark. How many times have you been published? If you can give an example of where you've been published (I'm thinking first of all your Chicken Soup accolades first, and your completed manuscripts) then you are a writer! And please get back to BKers. I just posted an update after over a month so you're not alone. And it didn't really say anything of substance, LOL.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I went onto Dropbox last night, read all the stuff Sue has done lately and then Angela, and gave up. ;) However, I'm determined to go back tonight and wade in--again.

Yeah, that face has saved his life many, many times. Many times, when he was under a year and dug a hole the size of a swimming pool---that face saved him.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I should query, shouldn't I? I'm not sure why I hesitate. Although I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that if I don't submit/query, I am unrejected.

Who knows?

Pat Wahler said...

What jumped out at me most about your post was "habit". This is so true. If we make a habit of putting words on paper each day, we'll do it. If we give in to a habit of making excuses, we won't write.

Thanks for the reminder, Sioux!

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