I need to write more like my dog plays

December 15, 2011 § 9 Comments

I hate to admit it, but I’m a lazy writer. Given the opportunity, I will tell rather than show (despite what the psychologists say) and I have the bad habit of rushing through the last quarter of my stories because I’m so anxious to get to the end. With How to Run a Five-Star Restaurant in the Capital of the Elf Kingdom, my fellow author and beta reader, Jay Swanson told me he loved where the story was going, but that right about where a climax should be, it just sort of fell off a cliff into an ending (he was a bit more diplomatic in the way he phrased it). Even before he said something I’d known it subconsciously, so I dutifully took pen in hand and dove back into prewriting, trying to flesh out a proper climax and conclusion.

The same thing was true about the young adult steampunk novel I sent off to beta readers last month. Generally the feedback has been very positive (and no one has told me that I should abandon all hope and become a teacher [because those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym]), but a consistent theme in the feedback has been that I need to take more time with the ending because it feels like I take 80,000 words to get somewhere and then suddenly the story ends. It’s not the most gratifying experience.

It’s the same way I read. Authors be warned, if you’ve written a good book and the climax is coming, my reading speed will increase like a train in a Ridley Scott movie and not even Denzel Washington could stop it. I start skimming paragraphs and racing through pages, eager to see how the characters could possibly get out of the jam they’re in.  As a reader, that’s exactly where I should be, enraptured by the world the author has created and the conflict the character find themselves mired in, but as an author, I need to work on slowing down, taking a deep breath and enjoying the journey.

I am the proud owner of a half-boxer, half-mystery dog named Stella (who I endearingly call my “mutt”). Stella is about one year old (we’re not sure exactly because she was a foster-dog from the shelter) and loves nothing more than playing, preferably tug-of-war. She will let you know when she wants to play by walking up to you and dropping her rope toy on your lap. When she was younger it wasn’t hard to win, by giving the rope a quick jerk or waiting for her to drop her guard, but as she’s grown (to the ripe old age of one) it’s rare that I’ll beat her. She’s learned my tricks and gotten stronger, and more often than not, our tug-of-war matches end with the rope slipping out of my hand. She backs away triumphantly, to make it very clear that she’s won, but then will bring the rope right back to play again.

For Stella, tug-of-war isn’t at all about winning, it’s about playing the game. I’m working on taking a lesson from Stella, and caring less about conquering my manuscript and racing towards the end, and more about enjoying the process. This silly dog has taught me more about what it means to enjoy the process than a lifetime’s worth of trite encouragements to “enjoy the the destination, not the journey.”

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§ 9 Responses to I need to write more like my dog plays

  • Lori Decicio says:

    Great read, R.H. Culp. Please give Stella an extra 20 minutes of tug of war for her excellent contribution to how you view your writing process. I enjoyed this blog, very much. I’ll ponder what areas of my life I can take The Stella Lesson to heart.

  • Thanks cool you wrote a steampunk novel. There aren’t a ton out there. I like that genre. Hopefully yours is more young than adult. Then I can read it 😉

    • R. H. Culp says:

      Good news, Erik, it’s definitely more young than adult. Have you read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series?

      • No I haven’t, but someone else said I should too. Did you like the Leviathan series? I just got Steampunk Poe and Steampunk! by Link and Grant.

        • R. H. Culp says:

          I’ve only read the first so far, but I really liked it. I haven’t read either Steampunk Poe or Steampunk! Did you like them? I’ve got both The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade and Airborn by Kenneth Oppel on my reading list over the holiday and am excited for some steampunk goodness.

  • Steampunk Poe is just Poe with some steampunk illustrations (which are cool) and I like Poe’s stories mostly because my parents and I will read them out loud together. Steampunk! is a bunch of short stories and I haven’t started it yet…maybe over Christmas vacation.

  • blp2 says:

    R.H.
    This is partially a response to the reply you left on my page (I am horrible at follow up, forgive me) and a reply to above post.
    Response- I love how I am not the only one to have been grounded by having my reading taken away. Makes me feel better about myself. And, though this is not the appropriate place to get into this, I have wondered about the validity of taking cues from non-christian writers, though I am nearer to it being acceptable than before. But again, another time, another post, another forum.
    Reply- I tend to get impatient and rush forward too. This has hindered me in my writing as well so your not alone out there. It has hurt me in my characterization. I really don’t care who they are because man, the world is exploding and it needs to be saved. I could care less if the super hero has blond or dark hair. But then, i realize, if you cant see him, what can you really feel when someone close to him dies. its just a faceless dude, no one you really care for. So, focus on not rushing the ending, especially if you spend the whole time telling how everyone was getting to the end. but then again, that’s what the second draft is for, right???

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