Several years ago I acquired a copy of Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life from Writer’s Digest. Now what can a beagle tell you about the writing life, especially when he begins most of his stories with, “It was a dark and stormy night.”? We know where that came from, but no one has ever accused Snoopy of plagiarism.
The book is actually a compilation of thoughts from thirty well-known writers, including Ray Bradbury, Sue Grafton, Julia Child, Danielle Steel, Sidney Sheldon, Clive Cussler, and Jack Canfield. Each author’s page has a brief cartoon of Snoopy in some phase of writing, and the authors comment on those particular points that poor Snoopy is wrestling with trying to write the perfect novel. The other Peanuts characters get involved every so often, including Lucy, with her comments sometimes laced with a bit of sarcasm.
Lucy approaches Snoopy and tells him that books about attorneys are the biggest sellers now. Snoopy has been struggling trying to incorporate his dark and stormy night into something that will “grab” an editor’s attention. Taking Lucy’s advice, he composes—“It was a dark and stormy night” and to justify using Lucy’s suggestion, he adds, “and an attorney appeared on the horizon.”
In reviewing the contents of this book, I can’t help but laugh at the thread of humor winding throughout. The focus is always on Snoopy, usually sitting on the top of his dog- house, working away at his little manual typewriter. His friends, apparently with all the sincerity of helping him find THE way to writing his great novel, offer tips and advice which result in various versions of, “It was a dark and stormy night.” When you get to the end of the book, you find the famous beagle is still struggling to get out of his rut. However, he has developed a character-driven story, but now it has become a series of contrasting events. In the last panel, Snoopy’s expression says it all—“I’m having a hard time ending this.”
This is a book I need to take from the shelf and comb through the pages in an effort to analyze my writing. I don’t want to get stuck on one idea, nor try to follow everyone’s advice/opinions. The authors who contributed to the book went through the school of hard knocks every good writer needs to experience—developing an idea into a story that others can enjoy, or even identify with. Those “hard knocks” include knowing that the first draft leaves much to be desired, or even put aside completely, finding a few honest friends who will offer suggestions for improving your techniques, studying an excellent book on grammar and spelling such as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, or The Chicago Manual of Style, and sound professional advice by established authors. Most of all, until you sit down and write, those “hard knocks” will be ineffective.
Like Snoopy, we may struggle to write that great novel, but following the beagle’s example of persistence will go a long way toward helping us graduate to our highest level of writing achievement.