Monday, November 29, 2010

Dog is My Coauthor

Post by Jenny

Much (sometimes too much) is made of the fact that we have a two-party political system in this country, but we tend to be either/or people in many other ways, too. Coffee or tea? Boxers or briefs? Cats or dogs?

My answer to that last one is dogs, and I’m not alone. My dog is one of nearly 80 million canine companions in this country. We have birthday parties for them, take them on vacation with us, and put their faces on t-shirts and coffee mugs. Naturally, our love of dogs is reflected in our reading material, as evidenced by the many recent dog-themed bestsellers, from Marley to Sawtelle to Racing in the Rain. In I Thought You Were Dead, Author Pete Nelson even gives Stella, an aging German Shepherd/Labrador mix, the ability to carry on regular conversations with her owner, Paul.

I sometimes wish my dog could talk because I’d love to have a better understanding of how she perceives the world. I know that her powers of observation are much sharper than mine. She sees things I don’t see, hears things I don’t hear, and the nose factor…well, that’s not even close. Humans have approximately 5 million sense receptors for olfaction. Bloodhounds have 300 million. Dogs can sniff out bombs, drugs, lost hikers, cancer, and, of all things, whale feces. I suspect my dog can smell when I’m just thinking about bacon.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly envious of the ability to track down a sweaty sock from a mile away. But I do think I’m a better writer when I’m in tune with my senses—and that seems like it’s getting harder to do. We humans are chronically distracted, and so much of what we take in is already neatly formatted and packaged for us. We are told what we are experiencing and often don’t think about the nuances we are missing.

How might my writing be different if I took a lesson from my dog and followed my nose more often? Well, I might sniff out a great idea for a story or character. And as for my dog’s conversational abilities…perhaps she would be less like Stella, who speaks in proper sentences (“Lunch was delicious, Paul. Thank you very much for that special treat.”) and more like these LOL dogs. It wouldn’t matter. I’d still want her as my coauthor.

But a cat would make a better editor, don’t you think?


Cricket McRae said...

Love this post! I still miss my big, goofy Newfoundland, gone four years now. She used to lay in my office door while I wrote, guarding me from who-knows-what. Now my cat curls up next to me, but she hardly ever offers editorial advice.
Hearth Cricket

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I’ve had cats and dogs and enjoy both. I am now pet free, but enjoy visiting my two granddogs. I do think it would be great for my writing if I could sharpen my sensory skills – maybe not to dog level but somewhere in between. And, yes, I think cats would be better editors than dogs!)

Kerrie said...

Great post once again. I do think cats have more of an editor personality.

Jenny said...

Thanks for your comments. Pets enrich our lives so much, don't they? Even hamsters!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love dogs and cats a lot but haven't had a pet for years. Now we're thinking of getting a couple of cats...extra editors would definitely be helpful.

HeidiTownMayor said...

haha! "Cats would make better editors." For sure.

That's what makes dogs so great. They love us unconditionally, typos and grammatical errors and all.

I write every day with a dog and a cat within arms length and I'd have it no other way.

Lynn said...

Yes, yes, yes -- we can learn so much from our pooches. I hone my observation skills by watching Sammy, my Glab (Golden/Lab mix) watch the world. My husband and I discuss ad nauseum what Sammy thinks/wants/would say if he could. Come to think of it, I'm probably a better writer because I'm so "in tune" to that pile of fur! Thanks for bringing the subject up.

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