Dogs, Skunks & Writing

My wife takes our two dogs running almost every morning. I stay in bed because her version of running is the “all pain, no gain” variety—it involves neither a court nor a basketball. This routine didn’t affect my life until The-Morning-Which-Will-Not-Be-Named.

Skunk: 1. Dogs: 0.

Skunked dog

Fortunately, there are writing-based insights to be gained from a pair of odoriferous mutts. Here are three lessons I’ve learned about dogs, skunks, and writing:

1)      Finding writing time is like bathing a skunked dog. You can always come up with something to do that seems more pressing. There are bills to pay, emails to answer, papers to grade. You can dart and dodge and distract. But the dog still stinks. And the story still needs written. Eventually, you have to push aside your excuses and just write. You also have to bathe the stinking dog.

2)      A single approach is rarely enough to solve the problem. Tomato juice. Dish soap. Baking soda. There are multiple methods for cutting the odor of a skunk-sprayed pooch. But to really deal with the problem, you’ll probably have to put more than just one of those methods to use. Similarly, when you run into a problem with your writing—a scene that drags, a middle that droops—don’t lock onto a single solution. Read your work aloud. Take a walk. Seek a critique. Step away from your computer and put pencil to paper. Take as many different approaches as needed to get your writing humming again. And maybe give the dog one more scrubbing, too.

3)      Rainy days bring reminders. The odor fades. You find yourself forgetting your dog ever had a run-in with a skunk’s backside. Then it rains. Wet dog fur releases latent skunk scent in an exceptionally memorable way. And just like the rainy setting affects the potency of skunky dog fur, a story’s setting should affect the plot. The Harry Potter series wouldn’t be the same without the quirks of Hogwarts. The Hunger Games wouldn’t be the same without the districts. Setting should be more than a simple, silent backdrop. Make it matter.

And there you have it—the three writing lessons I learned from two dogs and one skunk. If you have another insight or writing tip to share, feel free to post it in the comments below. And even if you didn’t learn anything new about writing from today’s post . . . well . . . I hope you at least learned to stay away from skunks.

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T. P. Jagger
Along with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade classrooms. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on
  1. Triple thumbs up on the setting advice. I do a whole school visit called Setting Geography and Culture and it’s all about the dangers that are present because of the setting and adventures that are possible because of where the characters go. It’s very rare that a book is truly memorable and has an underdeveloped setting.

  2. So funny and so true! Thanks for the laugh and for reminding me to make setting matter. Hope that lingering skunk smell fades with each rainy day.

  3. Funny! And I so agree with you about setting… crucial. I just hope I never have to smell a skunky dog to remind myself!!!!