When it comes to writing advice, most people think of one-liners from On Writing or quotes from authors like Hemingway. However, I recommend taking advantage of the benefits of having a dog.
Traditional writing advice often only applies to what we put on the page. I think it’s unrealistic to expect your writing and your day-to-day life won’t impact one another.
If I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I probably won’t have a productive writing session the next morning. I believe the benefits of having a dog – or any pet – can run over into your writing practice and give your work the little extra something it’s missing.
Proven Benefits of Having a Dog
Before we consider the ways having a dog could improve your writing, let’s consider the benefits of having a dog in general. After all, when you’re mentally and physically healthy, you have more time and energy to devote to your work.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), pets have myriad positive impacts on their owners’ physical health. They can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. When it comes to dogs in particular, there’s also the incentive to exercise by talking walks and spending time outside.
Dogs can also provide several benefits to our emotional and mental health. Pets can lower their owners’ stress levels. They provide comfort to people in distress. They can ease loneliness through their own presence, as well as by promoting socialization.
For some, dogs may even provide a sense of purpose. The care dogs require can give you a reason to get moving in the morning and start your day. That said, your pet’s ability to live in the moment can also teach you mindfulness and help you enjoy the simple pleasures you encounter throughout your day.
These small but meaningful improvements to your daily life can help make room for your writing. That’s where the other advantages of dog ownership can start to shine through.
3 Benefits of Having a Dog as a Writer
Let me be clear – I know dogs aren’t for everyone. And there’s no guarantee that just because having a dog has been good for my writing practice that it will necessarily improve yours. Before you jump into an 8–15 year commitment, make sure you do your research.
I adopted my Chihuahua mix, Cooper, in April of 2017 when he was six months old:
He has a ton of energy and a busy personality, which means there’s never a dull moment in our house. Cooper’s become my writing companion as well as a helpful brainstorming partner. Here’s how it happened.
1. Walks Can Spark Imagination
While I was in the M.F.A. program at Northwestern University, I worked as a dog walker on the north side of Chicago. I’d never had a dog before, or really even spent all that much time with one. Despite this, I quickly came to enjoy the hours of walking the sidewalks with a canine at my heels.
I walked dogs for over two years, and during that period friends and family routinely asked how I passed the time. People frequently expected me to say that I listened to music or podcasts while at work, but I never did. Despite the lack of entertainment, I didn’t find the twenty-five or so hours I worked each week boring.
Walking gave me space to think. I had between four and six hours each day to ponder whatever writing project I happened to be neck-deep in at the time.
While walking, I finally ironed out sticky plot points in the novel I wrote for one of my summer classes. Walking also gave me time to construct detailed backstories for characters, brainstorm new forms for my thesis, and review criticism from my latest workshop.
These effects aren’t just a personal quirk, either. A 2014 study from Stanford University noted the relationship between walking and creative thinking. Having a strong motivator to get out of the house and go for a walk each day – like, say, a rowdy dog who won’t stop pulling on your pant leg – can help you stretch your legs and your imagination.
I loved walking so much I adopted a dog of my own to explore the streets with each day. Now that I no longer pay my rent doing pet care, Cooper gets me out and walking so that I can do some of my best thinking.
2. Getting Away from the Computer Screen Is Vital
I believe that most writers – myself included – have an inherent need to get their stories right. This makes it tempting to sit down in front of the computer and stay glued there until that bit of dialogue sounds natural, that descriptive paragraph flows smoothly, all the plot holes are filled in.
Of course, something always gets in the way of this. There are bills to pay. Other people desire our attention. We keep getting pulled back into reality, into the present. While some people might find these intrusions frustrating, I think there’s something to be said for occasionally stepping away from the page (or screen, as it may be).
Writers are not superhuman. We still need all the things that make for a full and healthy life. I like to remind myself of this by taking a midday break to practice yoga every day, and by getting out with Cooper for our daily walks.
Not only are these practices good for my physical and mental health, they’re also good for my writing. In his book You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, Lee Gutkind talks about “living the creative nonfiction life”. Despite the context, I would say his advice is useful for writing in any genre. It involves “reading books and making plans to have new experiences, to meet as many people as possible, and learn about life”.
It can be hard to manage budgeting for new experiences and adventures on an entry-level salary. However, I’ve found that having a dog helps me experience the world in ways that are manageable for where I’m at right now. We recently went on Cooper’s first hike. His daily walks also provide me with ample opportunities to explore my neighborhood:
If you have the time and money, dogs can provide wonderful companions for a wide variety of other adventures. Consider cross-country road trips, sporting events, and even overnight backpacking. If your four-legged partner can keep up, then there’s plenty of “writing life” to live.
3. Dogs Make Tough Criticism Easier to Take
I’ve been taking writing workshops since I was 17 years old. In the years since then, I’ve received a lot of criticism – some of it constructive, and some of it not so much.
Feedback on your work is a double-edged sword. You absolutely can’t go without it. Fresh eyes on your writing can help point out problem spots you can’t see. But it can also be hard to listen to someone point out everything that’s wrong with the piece you worked so hard on.
Since starting my first full-time writing job, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that was disappointing and even discouraging. Fortunately, I work from home, which means Cooper is always around to help pick my spirits back up.
After brutal workshops, rejections from magazines, or tough news from the editor at my day job, my dog wants the same things he always wants: a scratch behind the ears, a nice long walk in the park, and a round of tug-of-war with his favorite toy.
Animals have a way of bringing us back to reality and reminding us of what really matters. I’ve brushed off emails that initially put a damper on my day by going out on a walk with my dog. When we get back home, I always feel more ready to take another crack at whatever piece elicited the less-than-desirable response.
Dogs make for amazing pets, but the benefits of having one in your home go far beyond simple companionship. Science has shown that “man’s best friend” has a lot to offer in the way of physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.
For writers, having a dog around could even improve your craft. Here are few ways having a dog has helped my work:
- Walking boosts my creative thinking.
- Having a dog encourages me to step away from the computer and live “the writing life”.
- My dog’s positive attitude makes it easier to take tough criticism.
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