My friend Taylor makes fun of me, because she says I think my goldendoodle, Kaia, is my real child.
And I do love Kaia. A lot.
She just makes me happy. If you have a dog, you know what I mean.
It’s not just that she’s always excited to see me when I get home, or that she immediately forgives me for any mistake I make.
It’s who she is.
They say that you’re the equivalent of the 5 people you spent the most time with. And I spend more time with Kaia than anyone else. So I’m hoping that her amazing personality rubs off on me a little bit.
Here are a few things she’s taught me about being a better writer.
1. Be curious.
Kaia wants to sniff everything. She wants everything in her mouth. Even pizza slices that have been on the sidewalk for a few days.
I’m not saying I want to eat pizza off the ground, but it would be nice to be as interested in the world as she is.
When I’m traveling in a new country, it’s easy to be curious about everything. I remember going to Guatemala and taking tons of pictures of the school girls in their bright uniforms. Everything seemed so vivid. The street vendors, the new foods, even the feeling of the air.
But here in Miami, I take the same walk every single day. Down the street to the bay and back.
It’s easy to take it for granted. To stop noticing the glint of the sunlight on the bay, and the shininess of the buildings, and the sound of the wind on the water. But when I do stop and get curious, it makes for a much more interesting walk.
Just like Kaia, the happiest people, and the best writers, see the world as an infinitely fascinating place.
Good writing helps us see the world slightly different. And a good writer has to be curious to make that happen.
2. Say hi to strangers.
Kaia says hi to everyone.
We’ll get in the elevator, and she’ll run up to whoever is in there like they are long lost friends. She’ll lean against them, and smile, and wag her tail.
And then, they start talking.
They ask us what kind of dog she is, how much she weighs. They tell us how beautiful she is.
When Kaia greets someone like they are the best thing that’s happened in her day, it makes them feel good. And they open up.
You can be a great writer without talking to anyone.
But constantly welcoming people into your life opens up so many opportunities. For collaboration, for mind-stretching, and for connection.
And talking to strangers opens a door to new ideas that you may have never thought to write about before.
3. Notice the small details.
Kaia is obsessed with lizards.
And she remembers where they live. If she sees a lizard on a wall on Monday, she will revisit that same spot on the wall on Friday.
Her eyes are constantly searching for the tiny movement that lets her know they’re there.
And she can smell a tennis ball 50 yards away.
She will randomly dash into the bushes, scrounge around, and come out with a new tennis ball in her mouth. It always amazes me that she knows it’s there.
To be a good writer, you need to notice the little things. Like the way flip-flops sound on the sidewalk, and the strong, sweet, smooth taste of coffee. It’s by noticing that you are able to share those details with your readers, and bring your world alive for them.
3. Get a lot of exercise.
I love running. And even though I love running, sometimes, I have to force myself to go out and do it.
Not Kaia. She was born to run.
The minute we take her leash off at the bay, she charges. When she’s running, her body is more fully hers.
Exercise is built into her very being. If she doesn’t do it, she gets antsy and restless.
And exercise is built into us as humans, too.
When I work out, my mind takes me to places I would never have found otherwise. I’m able to more fully occupy my body, to feel the rush of breath, and the streaks of sweat.
Exercise makes for better writing. Because it gives us space to explore. And it gives us back to our bodies.
4. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
When Kaia was a puppy, she was afraid to swim.
There was a fountain built for dogs near our apartment, and we would walk her over the grassy fields to that fountain almost everyday.
At first, she wouldn’t even go in the water, just run around it and watch the other dogs swim.
I would throw her ball a little of the way in, and she would wade in and grab it, then quickly come back out. Then I threw the ball further.
Every time I challenged her a little more, she would rise to it. She never backed down.
Now she loves to swim.
Writing well means taking risks. Trying new styles, inventing new techniques, writing about things you’re afraid people won’t want to read, writing about things that make you feel exposed.
[Tweet “If something feels like a challenge, embrace it. It can only make your writing better.”]
5. Every time you greet someone, have something to give them.
One of my favorite things about Kaia is that she never comes to the door without a toy in her mouth.
When she sees someone coming in, she immediately runs into the apartment, grabs a toy, and comes back.
And if she doesn’t have a toy to give, she will wag her tail and give them her attention and affection.
For me, writing is about giving. It’s a chance to share something valuable with the world, whether that’s personal stories, guides on how to live a better life, or opportunities to laugh.
Never greet a reader without something to give.
6. Companionship is key.
As I sit here writing this, Kaia lays next to me on the brick walkway of one of my favorite coffee shops, Alaska Coffee Roasting. As I’ve written this, people have stopped to talk, to ask about Kaia, to share a moment of their day with us.
Sometimes I cloister myself at home to write. I don’t call anyone, or go out, or connect with people.
But I’ve found that companionship is not just a break from writing – it’s necessary to fill me up with the energy I need to keep going.
When I connect with other people, I feel revitalized. I see ideas in a new light. I get ideas I would never have gotten otherwise. And I just feel happier.
Do you take time for connection in your life?
Even though I will never eat week-old pizza off the ground, sniff dog poop as if it’s nectar from the gods, or lick a complete stranger’s hand, I do want to be just a little bit more like my dog.
How about you?