Welcome to the blog of the Consulting Editors Alliance. This is our forum for sharing views on the wonderful, bizarre, enormously frustrating and satisfying (depends on the day) world of book publishing and our roles in it as freelance editors, writing collaborators, and ghostwriters. Please join the conversation!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Everything I Know About Writing I Learned from My Cat

Perhaps you've had animals who've taught you lessons--about loyalty, love, and what's really important in life. So perhaps you can be persuaded that the title of this post, while admittedly exaggerated, is more than just whimsical.

As I write this, my dainty black cat Lucy is curled up in her fleece bed, head tucked under paw, snoring so loudly I can hear her from across the room. She has no idea how much writing advice she has given me. And of course, being a cat, doesn't care. But since we aren't cats and need to live to write another day, I thought I'd share some of Lucy's Lessons for Writers:

Be True to Your Nature: You are your own animal. Find that writing self. Don't try to be other animals. It never works. They won't thank you. And you'll feel crappy.

Staring Is Good: Observation (external, internal) is the foundation of all good writing.

Keep Your Business in the Box: Separate your writing time from your business-of-writing time. They don't mix. One is a marathon; the other a sprint. Some writers even hire people to sprint for them.

Get Up and Stretch. A Lot.: You'll breathe easier, think better, and in general be more tolerable company for all, including yourself. Corollary: While you're up, pet your cat. Repetitive motion is soothing.

Editing, Like Licking, Should Be Thorough, Though Not Obsessive: Just when you think you can't stand any more, do one more round, nose to tail (including under the hood). When you realize you're going over the same wet ground, stop.

Practice Active Napping: When you take time off, really take it off. Tuck your nose under your paw and lose yourself. Don't worry, the blank page (and maybe some ideas to fill it) will be there when you get back.

Although You Did Nothing Today, You're One Fine Specimen: Do you ever see cats express self-doubt? Wonder what they've done with their nine lives? Think they don't deserve treats? I thought not.

Happy writing.


  1. this is perfect advice! i'll refer to it early and often.

  2. Lucy's delighted to have been of help ;)!

  3. Ennis S said...
    I guess I need to rent a cat...e

  4. Lovely, Toni. I shall strive to be more catlike in 2011.

  5. Well damn, Toni, you're right. My two cats could have taught me a lot about writing if only I'd followed Rule #2 and paid closer attention. And given that they were so very different in temperament, Lucy's first lesson in particular leaps out at me: Be True to Your nature.

    Aretha was as sweet as could be. People fell in love with her all the time. In fact, when she was failing, her vet used to call out of the blue to check in on her. Petula, a calico, was as feisty as you could imagine and then some. The same vet did not call to check up on her when she was failing.

    And yet the two were not entirely predictable. Who was the fearless mouser? Aretha. When confronted with a squeaky invader in her space, Petula ran and hid, leaving her generally docile sister to be the enforcer.

    Just like the best of characters, they were who they were completely and without apology. And also like the best of characters, they had surprise traits; they were not entirely predictable. So Rule #1 seems to apply not only to cats and writers, but characters, as well.

  6. Interesting, too, how you can have contradictions in characters and have it be believable, and contradictions in characters that are not believable and should be rethought. Which leads to a question: Fiction mavens on this blog: how would a writer determine the difference?

  7. Oh, this lovely blog is getting a little too existential for me. For Gemini(s) contradictions are a way of life. Believable or unbelievable, we don't care. As an example, note how I'm wandering away from what I intended to say: the only rule I have ever mastered is #2. (I don't mean No. 2, which is actually #3). My NY's resolution for next year will be to observe my cats more closely instead of simply waiting on them foot and foot. See you soonest, Toni.

  8. I love your contradictions, Jos. You are a wonderful writer, editor, and writing mentor. Maybe your cats should be watching YOU! XO.