What My Cat Teaches Me About Writing

So this week’s post is more for fun than for instruction, but I will try to draw some helpful conclusions from amongst the adorableness I am about to reveal.

I have a new cat, Gizmo.  Or, more precisely, Gizmo has a new human, me.  Gizmo’s current human (David, my husband), got married, so now she has twice as many pettings.  As the new person in this household, I’m adjusting to living with the cat.  We are still in the process of establishing who is in charge, her or me.  I know I’m the queen of my household, I’m just having a hard time convincing her of that.

Gizmo is very affectionate.  She’s not the standoffish, I-want-you-when-I want-you-but-ignore-you-as-dirt-all-other-times type of cat.  She is the in-your-face-all-the-time-because-you-are-the-most-awesome-thing-in-her-world kind of cat.  She HAS to be in and/or sitting on whatever is in front of you at any given time for her to be happy, whether that be the counter top when you’re cooking, your lap when you’re sitting, your computer when you’re typing, or the tub when you’re taking a bath.  Ok, so she doesn’t try to get IN the tub, just sit right beside it and meow piteously because there is water between her and you.

(this is her clawing at my desk as I’m writing this post, because I won’t let her jump on my desk, and I won’t scoot my chair out enough for her to sit on my lap while I’m writing)

This, as you can imagine, is distracting, and prevents me from getting things done.  Over the past few weeks, I think we’ve figured out a truce.  Gizmo is an inside cat, but she LOVES any opportunity to get outside where it’s interesting.  She doesn’t want to STAY outside, that would be scary.  She just wants to sniff and look and listen, then run back inside.  We have a deck (second story), with a patio door opening out onto it.  Every morning, I open the patio door so she can content herself by sitting on the deck and staring at all the fascinating things outside.  In the meantime, I get an hour or two of peace before I have to go to work.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Gizmo, and I love her being around.  I just wish she didn’t demand to be the center of my attention all the time.
What does all this have to do with writing?  I thought you’d ask that.  As a matter of fact, I think my muse has been taking lessons from Gizmo.

Anyone who really loves writing, or has a strong creative instinct in any kind of art, will know what I mean.  My muse DEMANDS to be the center of my attention all the time.  No, I’m not allowed to work eight hours a day and put bread on the table; I have to write NOW.  No, I’m not allowed to cook or clean my house; I have to write NOW.  No, I’m not allowed to concentrate on x, y, or z, I have to think about the story I’m writing and plan more for the characters/plot/what-have-you…oh oh oh and now I have to go write it all down NOW!

If I don’t listen to my muse, the danger isn’t so much that I won’t get anything done.  I am pretty good at ignoring her, buckling down, and dealing with reality.  Guess what she does then?  Makes a wreck of my sense of happiness and contentment, that’s what she does!  She starts to make me resentful of all the things in life that take me away from writing.  She tries to get me to hate my job, because it’s keeping me from writing.  She tries to get me to hate cooking, or cleaning, or grocery shopping, all because it keeps me from writing.

So how does one both ignore the cat and make it happy at the same time?  Open the patio door :).

I remind my muse that good writing draws from life experience.  How can I write good characters if I don’t observe people for hours, day in and day out?  What about all those funny stories I get to tell about what I experience at work?  What about my family?  How can I write convincingly about love and relationships if I don’t maintain good relationships myself?  And it’s not just about gaining life experience so you can write better, its about living.  My muse, as much as she might hate to admit it, needs stimulation.  Much like an inside cat who is fascinated by watching the comings and goings of the outside world, hearing the birds, and smelling the fresh grass, my muse needs LIFE in order to live, even if it means forgoing pettings, I mean writing, for a while.

What does this mean for you?  First of all, don’t ignore your cat too much, make sure they have a playmate or at least an open patio door to look out.  You don’t want them getting bored and clawing up your furniture.  

Second, let yourself live life.  I get very frustrated when I feel like I don’t have enough time to write.  I’m grumpy when I’m not making the progress I think I should be.  Much like a cat needs pettings and attention, I need my creative outlet and my creative outlet (muse), needs me.  But creativity alone is not life.  Without life, creativity will wither.  Life makes creativity stronger, nurtures it, gives it something to pull from and grow on.

Moral of the story: breathe, relax, and let the busy craziness of life happen.  Don’t resent life for taking you from your muse.  Let yourself find purpose and meaning in each moment, so that when you do carve out time to sit down and give your muse a good petting (sigh, look at all that hair!), you’re doing it full to the brim with life.  And that will make your writing better.

(Here is an adorable addendum, Gizmo caught in the act of stealing my water.  What a little bandit!)