Writing Like a Dog


Your conscious mind is a point in space moving through your brain like a red blood cell moving through a Labrador retriever as she runs.

Your subconscious mind is the dog herself – the whole animal except for that one red blood cell. At any point in time, nearly your entire brain functions subconsciously where you can’t sense it.

This puts most of your writing talent in the background, unseen and unexplored.

The subconscious mind is not exactly “you,” but it’s pretty close. It’s probably more like the person you would be if you were a Labrador retriever.

It’s a useful metaphor: You carry a Labrador retriever around in your head.

She’s the keeper and processor of all your feelings, your memories and your talents. You might think she’d be as sharp as a tack, but compared to your conscious mind (the actual “you”), she lives in a bit of a fog.

For instance, she’s not clever at differentiating real things from pretend things. Dreams and TV can sometimes be almost as real to her as ordinary life. If you show her mainly upbeat things, she stays happy.

She doesn’t always know if you’re joking when you poke fun at “yourself.” She’s apt to take you seriously when you turn away compliments by saying that you don’t deserve them.

Like any dog, she needs a leader, even though she may want only followers. If you fail to lead, she becomes neurotic. If someone attacks you verbally and you don’t defend yourself, she feels abandoned and defenseless.

Some things must be said to her many times before she understands, while other things need be said only once. If you want to tell her that she did a great job, you’ll have to say it several times slowly or she’ll be too distracted to listen. If it’s not a crisis, she’s not focused.

The passage of time isn’t linear for her. Work can feel like torture or fun, depending on what it is. If you give her the job she was born to do, she will work until she keels over and your arm falls off from throwing the ball. She won’t know where all the time went or why you want to stop playing so soon.

All these points are probably relevant to writers, but it’s the last one that new writers would do well to grasp and believe.

The key when you start your journey of writing fiction is to figure out what you were born to write. When you find the things that your subconscious mind loves to create, the work of writing disappears and is replaced by one of the best experiences of your life.

Here’s a way to discover what your subconscious Labrador retriever wants to write about:

1. Read the first ten pages of several dozen popular books from various genres. Pick out your favorite two.

2. Turn your monitor off and write the first six to ten pages of a dozen stories that are similar to those two books in terms of mood and characters, or whatever made you choose them.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you feel a sudden compelling love (or other strong emotion) for one of your characters.

4. Begin a novel immediately with that character in it.

After you’ve found the character who turns writing into fun for you, it’s probably best if you don’t write any more practice stories. It’s better to work on your ultimate goal from the start. Otherwise writing can feel like school in the sense that you’re preparing for “someday” when you’re “good enough” to face the real world.

You’ll become “good enough” a lot faster if you’re working on the real thing. If you work on it in the “real world” of a blog, where people are watching, it will probably help you improve even faster.

In some genres, short stories are part of the real world. If that’s the case for you, it might be wise to crank out a dozen short stories and submit them before you start your novel. But when they are all rejected, don’t feel bad, it’s the norm. It has nothing to do with how much talent you have or how successful you can be. It merely reflects the story to publisher ratios.

As long as you’re working with a character who moves you deeply, on a story that you plan to submit, you’re working in the real world on an achievable goal. Hang tough and never give up.

In my opinion, the real world is a place where good things happen to the few who love their work.

M. Talmage Moorehead