Posted On July 14, 2017 by Print This Post

Ever Wonder How Writing a Manuscript is Like Raising a Puppy? by Debbie Burns

Awww…who doesn’t love puppies? Debbie Burns has a surprising link between puppies and romance writing – read on!

It might not seem like writing a romance novel has much in common with raising a puppy. However, last summer while knee-deep in tumultuous and demanding puppy-land, it occurred to me it has quite a bit. I spent those fleeting months not only immersed in puppyhood, but revising one manuscript, attempting to finish another on deadline, working fulltime, and raising teens. [Side note: I would never wish this combination of events on anyone.]

The first similarity is that puppies are messy. They are continuously messy. As soon as one mess is cleaned up, another ensues. So are first drafts. Only with manuscripts, it’s often harder to tell when you’ve just written something you’re going to need to scrub up later. No matter what level of writer you are, cleanup is a necessary and helpful part of revision.

Second, puppies are attention-hounds. They follow you everywhere. If you try to lock them out of the bathroom to have thirty seconds to pee in peace, they’re whining and scratching at the door. Manuscripts can be saved and laptops can be shut down, but when you’re mid-manuscript, your characters are likely playing out unfinished scenes in your mind as you shower, do dishes, run errands, and squeeze in some r & r.

Next, unless you’re a dog whisperer, raising a puppy to be a stellar adult dog requires input from professionals. In the throes of puppyhood, pet owners seek advice from vets, enroll in training classes, read blogs, visit the library for a stack of training books, and gather around dog park benches for much needed support from fellow dog owners. In the writing world, this is the stage where you turn to your writer friends, enter contests, attend critique groups, and get agent and editor feedback to help shape your manuscript into something stronger than it would be on its own.

This next similarity is that both puppies and manuscripts take a TON of effort. The time and mental focus needed to raise a wriggling puppy into a gangly adolescent dog or to complete a full-length manuscript takes about the same amount of time. During this phase of growth, development and transition, be it for puppy or manuscript, many things fall by the wayside. Laundry piles up. Fingerprints on walls and fridges get ignored.  Dust collects on shelves. Maybe you gain a pound or two or ten from skipping exercise class too often.

Last summer, in the midst of deadlines and puppyhood, more often than not I collapsed into bed at night spent and exhausted. I felt thin. Not skinny thin—I won’t pretend I didn’t find it necessary to skip a regular exercise routine during this chaotic time—but the thin of skim milk as compared to a glass of rich, creamy whole milk.

This wasn’t a depressing feeling. True, I hadn’t been crazy about the idea of letting my teenage daughter’s foster puppy become an adopted “foster fail” (aka permanent member of our household) while facing a manuscript deadline. But I was head over heels in love with the delightful and tenacious girl who has brought far more joy than angst into my family’s lives. I was also living a long-held dream of having sold a book that would become a three-part series. So as I collapsed into bed feeling skim-milk-thin, I was doing so with a smile.

This brings me to the last commonality of puppies and manuscripts. Puppies are soft and cuddly and fill your heart with warm, fuzzy love. There’s a scientific explanation for this. When we look into our dog’s warm brown eyes, studies have shown our brains release “feel good” hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. What romance writers may not know is that serotonin and dopamine (another feel good hormone) are also linked to increased creativity. Writers need to access their brain’s creative center to draft a manuscript, so it’s not hard to understand why writing is so enjoyable. Manuscripts become endeared book babies and our characters become our imaginary friends because creating them makes us happy.

So, if you find yourself knee-deep in manuscript-land and just plain exhausted, the same advice often given to new puppy parents might refresh your spirits and get you back into that land of serotonin and dopamine where imaginary friends evolve into stellar manuscripts. And the best part, you don’t have to spend a hundred dollars on a sturdy kennel to keep your manuscript safe while you do.

Give these creativity-restoring activities a try:

* Get a good night’s sleep! Often writers attempt to write until the wee hours of the morning during a creative streak. On the rare occasion, when your story is really flowing, this can help pile up the word count. However, miss optimum sleep levels too often, and your creativity will be zapped, which you might pay for days afterward.

* Take a hike. Nature and exercise raise creative productivity by causing your brain to increase serotonin. Make it a weekly goal to visit a nature center for a rejuvenating scenic hike. Your writing will be the better for it.

* Write a thank you letter. It doesn’t matter who you address it to (God, the universe, or your best friend) or even if you send it. Spending twenty minutes writing down all the things you’re thankful for can change your day for the better and help you realize how blessed you really are.

* Take time out for a hobby. Maybe being weeks away from a deadline and having only half a manuscript finished doesn’t feel like the best time to learn how to crochet, but if you’re wasting hours worrying about time you haven’t got, then you aren’t helping your wordcount anyway.

* Lose yourself in housework. From washing a sink full of dishes to vacuuming the floor, sometimes these mindless activities can be just what a writer needs to destress and jumpstart the creative flow.

* Meditate. Daily if you can. There are dozens of highly rated, free apps to help you acquire the habit. Meditation can quiet the mind and open up your creative flow. Meditation didn’t come naturally for me. But since I’ve gotten into the habit, I’ve turned evenings in which I didn’t think I had an ounce of creativity left into good writing times.

* Switch up writing locations. I enjoy my home writing station with a full-size monitor and keyboard, but occasionally I need a change of scenery. Coffee shops, libraries, parks, mini-retreats, and writing nights at a friend’s house are great ways to experience a change of pace and increase productivity.

* Give yourself permission to surf. Lose ten minutes on the internet reading inspirational quotes. Print out your favorites and place them where you can read them when you need a quick pick-me-up.

* Set a timer and connect with writer friends on Twitter or Facebook. When time’s up, move your phone to another room and turn off social media so that it’s just you and your manuscript.

If you find your creativity zapped at any stage in your manuscript writing, I hope these suggestions are helpful. I’d love to hear what other activities rejuvenate your writing mood.


Ok RU Writers – what do you do to boost your creativity – AND what’s the name of your puppy? puppies? kitties? hamster? do tell!


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12 Responses to “Ever Wonder How Writing a Manuscript is Like Raising a Puppy? by Debbie Burns”

  1. OMG this article is just Too Cute!! I laughed my way through and nodded in total agreement. I have a Norwegian Forest cat named Gunnar. I occasionally foster Maine Coon rescues, but don’t have one at present.

    I have all kinds of “tricks” to kick-start my Muse, but there are a few things that get her going whether I like it or not! Long-distance drives really do it, as do long, hot bubble baths and swimming (floating actually). For the first two, I bought a hand-held voice recorder, so I didn’t either forget the brilliant ideas that came to me (once it was a book blurb, word for word!), or have to come flying out of the tub, bubbles and water going everywhere, to get to the computer or a notebook or anything! Now of course, you can download voice recorder apps on your cell phone, but unless it’s voice activated that’s not really a good idea for driving, whereas a handheld is perfect for drivers. Also, if you should (god forbid!) drop a handheld recorder into your tub, it’s not going to be the catastrophe a cell phone would be.

    My Muse LOVES floating in the pool! I go lay out there, and close my eyes and let the scene begin to unfold in my mind’s eye. And this is particular good for difficult scenes where I’m stuck, or can’t seem to get the right words to convey what I want, or the characters are being stubborn and not reacting. Then I come home and go straight to the computer and get it written, or record it for later transcription. Scrivener, by the way, has a transcribing function for those voice files (as a former career medical transcriptionist I have a footpedal and software, so I can’t attest to the Scrivener’s transcribing personally, I just know it’s there)

    Posted by Allie | July 14, 2017, 12:27 am
  2. This post made me giggle. I have two Labs (Casey and Max) and their training years were laughable. They made Marley look well behaved. They’re approaching 7 and 6 now, and a few health issues have slowed them down a little, but they’re still the most animated things I see every day. (And looking at their faces does bring on the feel-goods.)

    I don’t really get writer’s block, but I do get exhausted. When I do, I know it’s time to shut down the computer and take a breather. I go for a swim, read a book, play with the doglings, or even chat with family or friends. That’s usually enough to freshen me for the next day.

    Again, I really enjoyed this post. Happy weekend!

    Posted by Staci Troilo | July 14, 2017, 10:09 am
  3. Thanks for sharing, Staci! There’s nothing like a calm, well-behaved adult lab in my opinion!

    Posted by Debbie Burns | July 14, 2017, 12:13 pm
  4. Super cute article AND super accurate! We got an 8-week old Great Dane last summer and I’m still trying to survive the puppy while fitting in my writing!

    Posted by Dylann Crush | July 14, 2017, 1:05 pm
  5. This from our inbox…

    ABSOLUTELY LOVED and connected with you Romance University post. My 4-legged rescue is a shitz tsu (I hope that’s right) who was abandoned in a field near a ranch. I will hopefully be resubmitting a romance manuscript set in the newspaper business. It’s my first serious venture into fiction writing and I’m learning a lot including about rewrites. Your comments have helped me realize that considering I’m a writer (and retired journalist) I’m pretty normal

    Lucienda Denson

    Posted by Carrie Peters | July 14, 2017, 2:25 pm
  6. I love this so much! My Lab/Shepherd/Chow mix died several years ago but I still miss her so much. She was incredibly patient when I was deep into a manuscript, but when she’d had enough, she would very gently open her mouth and tug on my wrist with her teeth. Not hard enough to hurt, but she definitely knew how to make a point.

    Writing with cats is easier, for the most part. But my dog never jumped up and walked across my keyboard, or sat down and fell asleep on it, like my cats have been known to do.

    Right now the three cats in my household keep each other entertained and mostly leave me alone. My granddaughters, on the other hand, make it hard for me to focus and buckle down to write.

    Thanks for this fabulous post! Another one bookmarked for future reference.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 14, 2017, 6:24 pm
  7. Thank you so much. I have one cat as well and he acts very much the same. He loves to stretch out and push on the keyboard as I’m writing. I’m sorry about your dog.

    Posted by Debbie Burns | July 14, 2017, 10:03 pm
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    Posted by Kayla1979 | July 24, 2017, 12:11 pm


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