As readers of this blog know, I have a puppy. His name is Neo. He’s almost 9 months old now. He’s still a baby. Neo entertains me, delights me, and sometimes frustrates me. And being a puppy he grows through developmental stages. But I’ve also realized that the growth and development of the puppy are the same as the novelist. Now you’re looking at me like I’m stupid. Bear with me, I’ll explain.
Neonate (Week 0-2)
The puppy is blind and deaf and toothless. He can touch and taste but cannot regulate his body temperature. Growing fast, he needs to eat every two hours. He interacts with mother and her siblings and starts learning simple social skills.
The neo-novelist can read and write. She is hungry and consumes copious amounts of how-to-write books, blog posts, paper, and office supplies. She stays close to home and may interact with a mentor and fellow writers. Simple writing skills develop.
The Transition Period (Week 2-4)
The puppy’s eyes open. He starts to respond to sounds, and lights, and movement. He usually crawls but he can stand and stumble around. His baby teeth begin to come in. He also begins to realize when he is passing waste.
The new writer’s eyes are open when she realizes that she’s written dozens of story beginnings that go nowhere. The awful beginnings are a pile of—are shoved in the drawer. She can string sentences together into paragraphs and pages. Her sense of story is beginning to develop. She understands that writing is a skill. She reads tons and experiments with different kinds of writing. A wobbly first draft is written. The draft morphs into something that has little walking power. She learns that there are layers of writing and when done well her words bark.
The First Socialization Period (Week 4-7)
It’s time to introduce the pup noises, people, and other pets in your home. Good experiences will shape how the pup interacts with these things later in life. Mother teaches the puppy not to bite all the time and she begins to wean the pup. At about 5 weeks of age, the puppy begins to enjoy playtime.
The young writer learns to play with words, with ideas, with concepts. She practices her skills. She interacts with other writers, with readers, and people in general. Positive reinforcement is critical to her continued growth. She gets guidance from reading, from critique groups, and/or from mentors.
The Second Stage of Socialization & The Fear Period (about Week 8-12)
The pup may go through a fear stage. Everything frightens him, even things he has known and tolerated in the past. He learns simple commands. He sleeps better through the night and has better control of his bladder and bowels.
The young writer fears she’s too isolated and that her creativity and will shrivel up. She’s afraid she’s an imposter. Fears send many pages to File 13. Interactions with other people help her recognize character traits and goals. She learns to control her writing and to command the story, though sometimes the story commands her.
The Juvenile Stage (3-4 months)
At this stage, the pup is more independent and may ignore commands. He starts to test authority. He needs gentle reminders that allow him to learn who he is, but remind him of how to interact with others.
The writer starts to write what she wants because she wants to. The story grows on the page. She may go through a stage where she ignores the tried and true writing guidelines. Gentle critiques will help her grow, help her learn when to ignore the guidelines and when to follow them.
The Ranking Stage (3-6 months)
The pup is somewhat bratty, willful, and independent. He’s understanding ranking and testing where he fits in the pack. He is also teething.
The writer looks around and compares herself to others. She knows she is a better writer than some and fears she’ll never measure up to others. She chews on her writing with greater and greater complexity.
Adolescent Stage (6-18 months)
The puppy may look full grown, but he’s still learning. He is full of energy and exuberance. He may go through another fear period. But he still needs training and guidance.
The journeyman writer writes what she knows. Her writing has matured. She writes with energy and exuberance. She may hit the fear of being an imposter during this time. Her support group offers her reassurances, training, and guidance. Her writing continues to mature.
Adulthood (18 months and older)
The pup matures into a loyal companion who works hard, plays hard, and loves with his whole body.
The journeyman writer writes on a professional level. She works hard at something she loves with her whole being. And she continues to learn and grow. Now she’s aware that her next spurt of development will take her skills to a higher level. The journeyman writer recognizes that this is how she grows in her craft and leans into the process.
How Long Does It Take?
Puppies don’t become adults until they’re 1 to 2 years of age. Remember we claim that dog ages are the equal of seven years of adult human life. Does that mean 7 to 14 years must pass for us to become mature in our creativity? For some, it may be shorter and others it may be longer. How can you speed the process? Stay open to learning new things, read and read and read, and write and write and write.
Now you know how the growth and development of the puppy are the same as the novelist. You can be a puppy novelist, too. Work hard, play hard, and love the process. I know I do.