Sunday, March 18, 2012

For Writers

Channel the Bloodhound

One annoying phenomenon that plagues many writers is the inability to focus. Whenever this occurs, we would do well to take a lesson from the mighty bloodhound. Once these droopy-faced pooches pick up a scent, they will follow it to its source with the iron-willed determination for which they are so valued. Nothing distracts them from the relentless pursuit of the prey. Taking their lead, when you have an idea, you must stay on the scent until your curiosity and persistence rouse up a successful story.

Think about the following scenarios.

  1. You wake from a dead sleep with an idea burning. The pad next to your bed awaits your scribbling, but what you write makes little sense by lunchtime. You recognize the seed of a good idea, but the comings and goings of your busy day threaten to overcome your desire to pursue it.
  2. After days of intense research and setting up two expert interviews, the latest issue of your favorite  magazine lands in the mailbox and—THERE— is an article on the exact subject for which you’ve just done so much work. Your query to that very editor was nearly written, shining in fact, and now it seems for naught. You can’t shake your black mood for days.
  3. You have decided to do an in-depth analysis of your various works in progress. You have six chapters of a crime novel, two and three quarter kids' picture books, three half finished essays, and four non-fiction, half researched articles in the mix. Uh, oh.
Each of the aforementioned situations has a number of fix possibilities. That fix finds a parallel in the inbred traits that make bloodhounds such useful animals. They follow a scent, even a weak one, until all avenues toward a resolution are thoroughly snooped out. Consider these fixes for the above.

  1. You know there’s substance in those scribblings, don’t you? Something wonderful came to you in the small hours and then slipped just beyond your reckoning.  Keep the writing pad near you all day. Using your heightened awareness, look for signs in your waking hours that may have informed that subconscious thought. Gather the clues and bits, then, as soon as you are able, pound the idea out on your keyboard. Your brain is a marvelous machine. You'll be amazed at what comes to the fore.
  2. Strike the word “black” from your vocabulary and write the article anyway. Pick up the scent of some aspect in your original story and research that angle until it hurts. Get out there and find some other publication with the same editorial bent. Go down any promising new trail. Pick over the bones of those interviews for scraps that may have escaped close scrutiny or approach your experts for an additional quote or two. Spit polish your query. 
  3. Pick one! Finish it.
Bloodhounds when young are independent and willful. The ability is there but without proper training, they lack the focus needed to get the job done. They are brought along by the consistent hand of a trainer and the stimulation of reward. Heightening your own writing senses to mature bloodhound proficiency is a skill and a habit that develops like any other. It takes practice and a keen awareness of your surroundings. Even the best writers pick up a dead end trail now and then, but with your eventual success you will perhaps lend a grateful nod to the example set by man’s droopy faced but highly focused best friend.    


  1. Jennifer Brown BanksMarch 21, 2012 at 11:17 AM


    Indeed great tips to ponder and practice! Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Always happy to share what I've learned over the years. Thanks for your comment, Jen.