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The Dog & The Dance

By: Jennifer Hart



My dog likes to put his nose on the page when I write, meandering over like he's checking my work and disappointed that the page is still blank after several minutes. When he does this, I wonder if he's trying to tell me some vital tidbit that would make a new story come alive, or perhaps he's got editing notes to give me for my last piece. Baxter may be a gold mine of untapped fresh inspiration. He settles for a scratch behind the ears instead of a chat about my story arc, and I accept that though he clearly understands me, my doggish is not advanced enough for this conversation to be productive.


Writing regularly is part of the craft, so they say. It's the practice, but often sitting down to do this means not knowing what to write. In "Writing Down the Bones," Natalie Goldberg says, "You have just to keep your hand moving and worry about the editing later." Solid advice I take to heart. Our hand has to build a relationship of trust with our brain, I get it, but it can be tricky even to a practiced artist navigating the tangles of a blank page trying to be a new novel. When needed, I pull out a few tricks to coax my hand and my mind to work together.

Write in a place outside the usual. Taking myself on a writing date is one of my favorite pass times, next to walking Baxter, of course. A few spots in frequent rotation at the moment include parks, coffee shop patios (cliché, I know), the pool, and the car. Don't worry. I've never gotten a DWW. I sit safely in the passenger's seat and let someone else chauffeur me around, please do the same.


Scanning current events can cause all sorts of thoughts and strong emotions to take root. There's always plenty of headlines to plant the seeds of a perfect opening line. Getting knee-jerk feelings on the page has the potential to become a fiction piece, opinion article, or historical work.


Sketching makes my mind fire off in a different creative way– it's storytelling too! I approach it in a similar way to writing practice by first sketching what's in front of me and then following the pencil where it takes me. If sketching seems intimidating, substitute any other enjoyable creative outlet. Often what comes to mind while I'm relaxed busy on other endeavors makes for compelling character and theme ideas. Try cooking, painting, ceramics, knitting, or weaving. It's a warm-up, so have fun.


Make a list. Jot down impactful moments that have happened in the past. Julia Cameron describes this in "The Right to Write." She calls it dropping into the well. This metaphorical well captures our life's most important memories. The ones that changed us made us and stick with us. They can be severe, joyful, funny, or somber as long as they're meaningful write them down. Draw from the well as needed.


My work generally delivers a positive message, but dark thoughts sometimes spur happy outcomes. We all have them, so we may as well use them. I write down the dark, the insightful, the intriguing, and especially the random thoughts that pop in my head throughout the day. Then I fold those papers and keep them in a folder. When motivation wanes, I take out a slip of paper from my handy "idea box." For an extra twist, write about the opposite of whatever is on the note pulled from the folder.


Inspiration doesn't always come over to the page as willingly as a dog's wet nose. Sometimes she needs an invitation to join the party. We all know how much she loves to dance, though. So, ask her out onto the floor, she's waiting and may even take the lead.


--------------------ABOUT THE AUTHOR--------------------


Jennifer Hart is a storyteller from Las Vegas, Nevada. Her work encourages readers to pursue all things kind, adventurous, and creative in the world, which plays out whimsically in her first picture book series, Baxter The Dog Books. She is also the founder of a creative solutions company, Hart House Creative, and is part of the 2019-2022 Nevada Artist's Roster. Please, visit iamjenniferhart.com or follow @baxterbooks on Facebook and Instagram to learn more.


"Hart is an author to pay attention to..."

– S. HINRICHS, BOOK REVIEWER AND BLOGGER

"The story, the writing, and the illustrations make this book ("Baxter Goes to Imagination Land") a treasure."

– AMAZON REVIEWER

"Hart takes the imagination's wandering to delightfully absurd ends,"

– KIRKUS REVIEWS

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