Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gone to the Dogs

By Julie

The summer doldrums and dog days, they are here.
I thought this loose definition of "Dog Days" from Wikipedia was interesting:

"Dog Days" (Latin: diēs caniculārēs) are the hottest, most sultry days of summer. In the northern hemisphere, they usually fall between early July and early September. In the southern hemisphere they are usually between January and early March. The actual dates vary greatly from region to region, depending on latitude and climate. Dog Days can also define a time period or event that is very hot or stagnant, or marked by dull lack of progress. The name comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, was somehow responsible for the hot weather.


Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies" according to Brady's
Clavis Calendarium, 1813.

Here at What Women Write, we're all kind of in between at the moment. In between returning from vacations or leaving for vacations. In between sending visitors home or preparing to greet them.

I fall into the camp of having just sent my brother and nephew from California home, and while I'm starting to gear up for a vacation in August, it's not time to pack just yet. About three weeks stretch out before me when my I can write to my heart's content while my relatively independent teenage girls laze around or swim or have multi-night sleepovers with friends.

My writing is still progressing quite nicely, but I'm definitely entering the time of summer when I would rather take a nap than do almost anything. Going somewhere for ice cream (Hello, BRUSTER'S and SWEET SAMMIE'S!) is about the only activity that trumps naps, but because it's not practical or healthy to do it every single day, naps win the majority of the time.

As enjoyable as it is to have down time, as lovely as it is when nothing much is expected of you for a few days or weeks, it can be a bit mind numbing. So, here's a proposal: What better time is there to do some things for your writing that you might not normally do because of lack of time or energy? Here are a few ideas you might try:
  • Dig out old magazines, fabrics, buttons, or anything else with texture and create that collage you've always wanted to make to see if it grounds you in your story better. For my last manuscript, I created a photo collage using snippets of photos I found online. I used it as wallpaper on my laptop. Every time I opened my computer, it reminded me what I needed to be working on, and it was also fascinating to see what parts of the collage became more or less important as my story evolved.
  • Go on an artist's date to somewhere inspiring and cool, and I mean that in the literal sense of the word. Get away from the heat if you can. Take your camera. Take a notebook. Take a voice recorder. Or don't!
  • Create a playlist for your WIP. I rarely listen to music while I'm doing the actual writing, but I find exploring song titles and lyrics and new-to-me musicians often creates jumping off places to new plot points, or even new story ideas if I'm ready to start something new. ( is a great place to browse, and largehearted boy writes a fascinating blog where he frequently interviews authors about their writing playlists.)
  • On a night when you don't have to get up and be somewhere early the next day, go to bed with a story question in mind. It might be as simple as asking one of your characters, "What do you want?" And I'm totally serious about the part where you don't have to be anywhere the next day. You might find yourself half sleeping, half dreaming, half thinking all night, and though your question could be answered better than you ever imagined, it might take another day and night to recover. But hey, it's the dog days, so it's all good, right?
And doggone it, if you just can't manage to pull yourself up from the couch for a few days or weeks, well, you can always blame it on Sirius.

What about you? What gets you out of the summer doldrums? What reinvigorates your senses and along with it, your muse?

Photo credit: Kristen, by permission given to her mother! Our beautiful Sophie, gazing out the window and dreaming of chasing lizards on the patio when the sun goes down.


  1. We're not having a "real" summer up here in Alaska. It feels like Seattle in the winter. So, I'm having the opposite problem. Right now I just want to sit in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of cocoa. Everyone who reads this comment will probably cringe because it's really HOT down there this year!

  2. Jolene, my dad lives in Spokane, and he's said the same thing about the last two summers! Hope you get at least a few warm days. I think the continual cool would also be a little mind numbing after a time. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Anonymous15 July, 2010

    I never think of "dog days of summer" without feeling all the emotion of Carson McCullers' short novel THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, the action taking place in "that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old," when she "had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways and . . . was afraid." This androgynous-appearing girl dreams often of Alaska, where her brother is stationed, with its snow, glaciers, igloos, polar bears, and Northern lights.

    McCullers makes us feel the intense heat of a small Southern town throughout the narrative as it envelops the characters in lazy card-playing, radio-listening hours and endless conversation in the dark kitchen. Like Frankie, we long for the exotic scenery of a frigid land as well as ease in Frankie's heart. As the action rises, we prepare ourselves for disappointment but are shocked by the swift passage to the climax, when Frankie is not allowed to go on the wedding trip with Jarvis and Janis, and the denouement, when John Henry dies of meningitis
    and Frankie moves into a new house and enters the teenage years, finally connected to a friend, Mary Littlejohn.

    It is October, when "a flock of strong-winged arrowed geese flew over the yard" and frost had "silver[ed] the brown grass and the roofs of neighbors' houses." At last, we feel the relief that is transcendent, given the multiple losses in the plot. Mutability. Grace.

    Place, setting, season--how powerful they are in this remarkable story.

  4. Though she didn't leave a name, I suspect the above comment was left by a beloved literature professor from my college days, Dr. Delores Washburn, because a little birdie told me she might be reading the post today. :)

    If I'm correct, thank you, Delores, for such a thoughtful and really lovely response to the topic. I'm going to have to locate MEMBER OF THE WEDDING and read it again -- preferably in the next few weeks.

    I'm pretty sure I have a clear memory of you reading some of these very lines to us in class all those years ago, probably on a blistering September afternoon at the end of the dog days of summer. :)


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