Lessons on Being a Writer That I Learned from my Cats
Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures. And cats like authors for the same reasons.
~ Robertson Davies
Cats offer a nearly perfect form of writer procrastination. They are entertaining and adorable, but are constantly hampering progress with their incessant need to be at the center of attention (which is remarkably similar to the behavior of authors).
Despite their interference, or perhaps because of it, I’ve learned a few things from my favorite felines about writing (and life) over the years, and have endeavored (occasionally with success, mostly without) to apply these lessons to my writing career. Using these sound feline theories, I’ve been able to write several children’s books, a fantasy novel about a woman who communicates with animals (Shepherd’s Moon), and still keep a giant website alive with informative articles. Without further ado, here are the lessons my cats have taught me about writing – in no particular order…
[heading style=”2″ color=”#ff9933″ style_color=”#ff9933″]Pace Yourself (Or Don’t).[/heading]
Cats apply a 20:80 ratio of work to sleep. While that ratio doesn’t allow me quite enough productive time in a day, its important to feel like I have a life outside of writing. That means getting off the computer, going for a walk, playing with my dogs and cats, taking a nap or just watching a movie with my very patient and incredibly supportive husband.
Make sure your writing career is worth your while. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the work, but what happens if you do hit the big league? You need to have something to work towards. (Besides, if you don’t experience life once in awhile, you won’t have anything to write about at all.)
[heading style=”2″ color=”#ff9933″ style_color=”#ff9933″]Don’t Try to Do Everything[/heading]
My cats lose about a billion hair ties a week. I find them everywhere – under the refrigerator, behind the washer, between couch cushions… The thing is, no matter how many hair ties my cats lose, they never worry that they’ll be “hair-tie-less” in the future. They just “know” that another ponytail holder will come along. The same holds true in writing. No matter what phone call or email or glorious industry conference you miss, another one will be along soon. Don’t sweat it. There are always more hair ties…
[heading style=”2″ color=”#ff9933″ style_color=”#ff9933″]Don’t Worry about What Others Think[/heading]
She stresses out about everything that could possibly happen (will they chase me, will they take my best box, will they touch me, will they eat all my food, will they use my litterbox, etc.). She’s gotten herself so stressed out that we have to provide her with plenty of isolated places to be completely calm. She can’t be rehomed as an only cat because no one wants such a fearful, needy, neurotic cat.
It’s very sad…
She’s beautiful – one of the most beautiful cats I’ve ever seen. She is also sweet as can be, but she’s just made herself crazy worrying about the other cats.
The others know this about her and so they spend their time teasing her, harassing her, stressing her out. We have to keep her almost totally separate from the others because of this problem.
But she taught me something valuable…
Writers can’t worry about what other writers are doing. The worst thing a writer can do is start comparing ranking, sales stats, site traffic, writing styles, paying gigs, or the number of books one has published – with those of other authors.
We are not in competition. Opportunity is fickle. Sometimes things fall into your lap – other times, they don’t. Treasure the times they do, help others along the way, and remind yourself every day how lucky you are to be doing what you love most in the world – whether you’re making a living at it or not.
Publishing, in any genre, is 90% work and 10% luck.
Worry about yourself, only yourself, and things will come together in the long run. At the very least, you’ll enjoy your life a lot more.
Life is a long-game.
[heading style=”2″ color=”#ff9933″ style_color=”#ff9933″]Always Be Hunting[/heading]
My cats are always hunting something – hair ties, lizards, bugs, toys…
Always be on the hunt for new opportunities. Even if you feel like you’re ahead, you’re not (if you’re an independent contractor). Opportunities come and go very quickly – and work as a writer operates on a feast/famine process. Always be on the hunt for new ways to do something, new clients, new content. Work with others to get things moving and be creative every single day. A career as an author depends largely on being able to think outside the box.
[heading style=”2″ color=”#ff9933″ style_color=”#ff9933″]Purge the Hairballs[/heading]
Even [tooltip style=”tipped” text=”hairballs.” size=”4″][button] bezoars[/button][/tooltip] have value (you would know that if you read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince). When a cat eats something they don’t like, or grooms themselves too long and gathers hair in their belly, or sometimes just want to annoy their parents, they purge themselves (usually on the oriental rug or expensive couch – because cats are nothing if not classy).
Of course, you need to see a vet if your pet does it often, but if it’s just a hairball, it’s expected. I learned that sometimes you have to treat words like hairballs and get rid of them.
No matter what you’re working on, have the courage to purge the entire day of creative writing because – well, because it sucks…
[heading style=”2″ color=”#ff9933″ style_color=”#ff9933″]Curiosity and the Cat[/heading]
My cats are curious about everything.
They will spend hours looking at a bug and days searching for the red dot. They will climb ladders, run outside of the house without a harness (just to see what’s out there), climb into areas they aren’t allowed and more. It’s entertaining until it gets dangerous.
Research is like a cat’s curiosity. It’s good to have some interests, it’s even better to do some research on those interests, but it can also consume your life (and your writing time). Focus on the important facts and move on or you’ll be forever lost in the details.
[heading style=”2″ color=”#ff9933″ style_color=”#ff9933″]Be Yourself[/heading]
My cats never care what they look like, how silly they are, or what you think of them. They don’t care about having the best tree house, they just want a tree to climb. They don’t care about the best toys, they are just as happy with a box to climb into.
You may not have the life that most people associate with “success” but that’s okay. If you’re doing what you love, with those you love, and creating something you love – what more is there?
Don’t worry about being like others, writing the next “50 Shades of Gray” or “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” series.
Worry about creating the best story you can create – with the best characters you can think of – in your own style.
[heading style=”2″ color=”#ff9933″ style_color=”#ff9933″]Claw Your Way to the Top[/heading]
Unless you’re a jaguar, going back down is much harder than going up, so don’t grow too quickly. Remember to focus on the journey, not the destination.
And that sums up my life lessons from cats. Hope you’ve enjoyed the read – and if you have, and you’re even slightly inclined to help keep these lessons coming, I hope you’ll consider purchasing my novel, Shepherd’s Moon and be sure to explore some of the other wonderful authors out there!