Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Raising a Puppy is Like Writing a Novel

THEY TAKE OVER YOUR LIFE
Puppy and novel are both massive time-sucking vortices. Their needs expand to fill every waking hour. Your daily routine is bludgeoned to death; your entire life is now THE NOVEL. Or THE PUPPY. If, in a sad attempt to snatch two minutes for yourself, you ignore the puppy, she will pee/vomit on the couch/pull down the bath towels, shred them and eat the carnage. And then vomit on the couch.

Since novels don't do any of those things, you may think you can ignore yours with impunity. hahahahaha You can't. Because:

THE GUILT...THE GUILT...
It doesn't matter where you are. It doesn't matter what you're doing. If you're not working on the novel, then a little voice is yammering in your head: Chapter 7 isn't going to write itself, you know.

"But I HAVE to renew my driver's license/buy groceries/go to work!" you cry.

Not if you really loved me, Novel says. Not if you were REALLY dedicated.

Puppy races around the house with a half-demolished remote control in her mouth. "No! Bad puppy!" you shriek, as you pry crumbling bits of plastic from between her molars. Knowing that if you'd just sucked it up and taken her for a good run this morning, even though yes, it was raining, she would at this moment be tired and napping and not looking at you as if you've just stomped the last bit of joy out of her soul.

Face it. You will never be good enough. Learn to deal. Also learn to put the remotes away. And anything else small enough to fit into Puppy's maw. If something looks too big, put that away too. Puppy likes a challenge.

IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU'VE DONE THIS BEFORE. YOU STILL END UP HAVING TO FIGURE IT OUT FOR THE FIRST TIME. AGAIN.
Partly, this is because every puppy and every novel come with unique issues that you've never dealt with before. Issues like digging, and multiple points of view. What worked for the last puppy/novel, you finally realize, won't work for this one.

But before this comes the inevitable period of denial. The last one was so easy, you think in despair. How come this one is so hard? What am I doing wrong?

Buck up, little butterfly. You're indulging in Retrospective Canonization, in which the last puppy or novel is viewed through the fond, hazy spectacles of selective amnesia. The last book never tied you up in knots like this; it practically poured itself through your fingers onto the pages! The last puppy never had diarrhea under the dining room table; in fact, the last puppy hardly had bowel movements at all. Ever!

Forgotten are the tears shed over literary corners you kept writing yourself into. Forgotten are the wee hours of the morning when you shielded your eyes from the copyeditor's notes, moaning, I can't rewrite that damn chapter one more time, I can't, why, God, WHY? Forgotten are the decimated vegetable beds, the ruined carpets, the lunatic barking which made the neighbor complain.

Take off the spectacles. Remember it all, both fair and foul. You figured out the last one, didn't you? And it didn't turn out so badly. This one will be just as hard. But you'll get there, and you'll learn some new things along the way.

Bear in mind, though...

THERE IS ALWAYS ONE UNSOLVABLE PROBLEM.
Maybe it's the unlikely coincidence in Chapter 18 that you hate, but without which, the entire rest of the plot falls apart. Maybe it's the cat-chasing. You try everything. Nothing works. So you end up jerry-rigging. You set up something in Chapter 2 so readers believe Chapter 18 might actually happen that way. You wedge baby gates in strategic doorways to keep Puppy from careening around the house after terrified felines.

Perfect? No. But it'll have to do. Because...

YOU'RE NEVER FINISHED. AND YET, AT SOME POINT, YOU ARE.
You never completely finish writing a novel. You never completely finish training a puppy. You simply get to the point where, with whatever time and talent you have, you've done the best you can do.

At that point, with all your hard work, and a little luck, novel or puppy can then appear in public without causing you embarrassment.

Or at least...not that much.


15 comments:

Susan said...

Oh this gave me a good laugh today, and made me feel in good company. Thanks!

Christine Fletcher said...

Hi, Susan! Whether dealing with novels or puppies, we're never alone. There's always someone who understands what we're going through...thank heaven.

Andrea said...

Yep, it all sounds oh so familiar, even when Puppy happens to come fully grown into the household. Let's just call it A Period of Adjustment (sounds like a title suitable for Masterpiece Theater, and if any of those writers of masterpieces had really been willing to tell us the truth about their personal lives, it would have been produced in six different versions by now).
Thanks for adding some light to this rainy day.

Christine Fletcher said...

Ooh, I like A Period of Adjustment! It sounds so civilized. Like the phrase "dietary indiscretion" for a dog that's stuffed itself with garbage. It has that we-can-survive-this lilt to it.

Diane P said...

I don't know about writing a novel but I am experiencing full puppy mode. I waited until I retired from teaching middle school before we got a French bulldog puppy.I have never had such clean floors.
This rainy weather in Portland is killing us.

Christine Fletcher said...

Congratulations on your puppy, Diane! I LOVE Frenchies; nothing in the world is more adorable than a French Bulldog puppy. And they grow up to be the nicest dogs.

But oh, I hear you about puppy mode. And the rain. Our puppy is a 70-lb German Shepherd, and the kitchen floor...I think it may never fully recover.

Amy Baskin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy Baskin said...

Christine, you're spot-on with this. Thanks for sharing with us!

Christine Fletcher said...

Thanks, Amy! :)

Teddycavy said...

This is so funny! Our dog is nine but is stuck in puppy-mode. We think it's because she was spayed too young. Anyway, she is sooo much work. Last weekend she ate my lunch bag. :[

Christine Fletcher said...

It's true...some puppies stay puppies all their lives. Good thing they're cute, huh?

Our puppy ate our car registration renewal. We have to go to the DMV now and get a new one. We think puppy should be the one to have to stand in line, since it's her fault. :)

Lisa Nowak said...

Maybe you can distract the puppy by letting it eat a problem manuscript?

I feel for you with that car registration. By all means, make the puppy stand in line.

Melissa Marsh said...

I LOVED this. Hahaha! I remember the last puppy we had. My kids said they'd take care of cleaning up after it, house-training, etc. Do you think they did? Nope! I am convinced that the next dog I get will be house-trained!!!

I can so identify with the guilt over the novel, too. I have managed to silence that voice for now since we're moving, but it will rear its head again very soon.

Christine Fletcher said...

Ha, Lisa, love it! I have a whole abandoned novel that dog can eat. That ought to take her a while.

And yeah, out of a bazillion pieces of junk mail and catalogs, she picks the car registration. Figures.

Christine Fletcher said...

Melissa, I know as soon as you're settled, you'll be back in the saddle with the novel. And your subconscious is still working on it, so you may have all kinds of fresh ideas when you sit down again.

Definitely choose an already-housebroken dog, if you can. I work with dogs for a living, but I'm still surprised every time we get a new puppy how completely they take over your life!