dog is writing my column this month. And while you may think she has
been writing all of them, I take credit for all but this one.
My wife and I have a springer
spaniel. Chloe, one year old, is our third. The first two are no longer
All three dogs grew up doing the
same thing. From the time they were puppies, all three would come into
the office whenever I sat down to write and would sleep under my desk.
First Arde (pronounced like Artie with a d), then Corey (aka Dogzilla),
and now Chloe D. Dawg (Dawg was misspelled on her papers).
What I didn’t realize until
recently is that all three had similar habits, and through those
habits, they taught me some important things about becoming a writer.
Go All Out
Puppies have two speeds:
Flat-out and sleep. A puppy can play tug-the-rope with as much energy
the last tug as on the first. And they don’t approach their fun
halfheartedly. They intend to play until they get
C’mon, tug that rope.
Tug harder. You’re not trying. C’mon . . . tug . . . tug . . . tug.
Okay, stop. Time to
When a puppy (and many older
dogs) plays, they put everything they have into it. Throw a tennis ball
around a black Lab, or fling a Frisbee anywhere near a Border collie
and watch what happens. They become perpetual fetch machines.
We could learn a lot from
watching dogs play.
Primarily about the importance
of giving each project our all, whether it’s a paid job or a freebie .
. . or even just an idea we’re knocking around.
How many times have you sorta
pecked a little here and there, answered a few emails, updated your
Facebook status, tweeted pithy observations about life, searched for
cute cat photos, and toyed with the piece again, only to realize that
it has about as much oomph as a deflated balloon?
A couple of you just fibbed.
We’ve all done it. Approached
our writing like a skinny girl on a first date. Just kind of picked at
it and moved things around a little to make it look like we’ve done
something. But we ought to approach our writing like Paula Deen at a
buy-one-get-one-free butter sale: dive in with both hands flying.
Editors do not buy halfhearted
attempts. And they can tell. The work speaks for itself. All the editor
has to do is plow through the manuscript and the cadence of the
writing, the word choice, and the competence of the piece (or lack
of same) hits them like a tidal wave.
The enthusiasm we bring to a
project shows in ways we are often never aware of, so it behooves us to
approach each project with the same enthusiasm we bring to the other
passions in our lives.
If there is anything more loyal
than a dog (and members of the military), I have yet to see it. My dog
loves me when I am in a great mood and when I’m in a funk. She loves me
when we’re playing fetch the flying monkey (long story) and when I’m
lost in a project and unaware that she is even in the world. She climbs
up in my lap every night and goes to sleep, no matter what time I come
down from the office.
She loves my wife and me
unconditionally and doesn’t make us deserve it.
We should have the same attitude
toward the people we work for.
If someone is paying you to
write, or if you agree to write a piece free of charge, that
person/company deserves your loyalty. You may end up biting off more
than you can chew, or the project may be as boring as watching beige
carpet rot, but that’s immaterial. If you signed on to do the project,
as far as anyone else is concerned, they are a great company to work
for and you will not say a bad word against them.
however, you are wronged by
someone you’re working for, it is still imperative for you to take the
• We are Christian writers (remember, the C in CFOM doesn’t stand for
• We are (or are striving to be) professionals
• If an editor hears you ripping another editor to shreds (even
deservedly), it makes him or her wonder, “What would they say about me?”
I worked as a janitor through
high school, and the man I worked for told all of his new employees,
“You should always be loyal to the man who signs your paycheck.” And as
writers, the same thing applies. I once agreed to do a project and
realized halfway through I had undercharged the company by several
hundred dollars. I was going to lose money on the project, and the CEO
knew it. One afternoon he called to check on the progress of the
project. I told him I was about two hours away from finishing the final
“Tom, you’re telling me you
going to turn this kit in two days early?”
“I don’t understand. You’re
losing money on this deal, yet the preliminary work I’ve seen from you
is outstanding. And on top of that, one of our potential vendors told
me you were really talking up this new venture. Why is that?”
“Donald,” I said, “just because
I miscalculated the amount of time this job would take and pretty much
cut my own throat doesn’t change the fact that this is a great project.
My goof doesn’t change that at all.”
He was impressed. And while he
didn’t offer to make up the difference, he gave me first shot at a lot
of freelance work.
My dog sniffs anything and
everything. And thanks to the dog door in the dining room, she shares a
lot of things with us: leaves; sticks; small branches; half-buried
tennis balls; unidentifiable, dirt-encrusted, metal doohickeys; a
dried-up squirrel’s tail (I don’t even want to know . . .); and other
things that caught her attention.
All three dogs were curious
about everything in the house and in the yard: in short, everything in
How about you? Are you curious?
Do you want to know what makes the world tick? Do you want to know why
one sentence sounds so much better than another one yet they both
convey the same information? Do you want to know why there are gourmet
dog foods, but no rump-flavored dog food?
Writers are curious beasts. They
sniff everything in their world and drag some of it back into the house
to examine at their leisure. There's a lesson in that for the rest of
Well that’s about it for this
time. I have to go now. It’s almost 9 p.m. and Chloe is waiting for me
to come downstairs so she can go to sleep in my lap.