Cats don’t act as though you’re the one bright ray of sunlight in an otherwise clouded existence.—Raymond Chandler
You all know my cat. He sits on my blog banner staring into space with the studied expression of someone who is being prevented from walking on a desk he knows perfectly well he walks on all the time when I’m not looking.
He’s my inspiration.
He is undeterrable
When he wants something, he gets it.
If it’s not lying around where he wants it, he yells. If I don’t respond, he yells louder. If I still don’t respond, he comes and finds me.
If it involves walking on a desk upon which he is forbidden to walk, he waits until I leave the room and then he walks on it.
This is how writers act about the stories we so desperately want to write. Time and again, our stories fail to come out right. So we write them again. And again. And again. And again. . .
Until we get what we want.
He knows what he likes
Specifically, what he likes is lying on my shins.
Now, do I always want him on my shins? No, I do not. Sometimes I prefer to move my legs once an hour or so, at which point I disturb him, and he gives me a look that tells me exactly how heartbreaking it is to own an insensitive blockhead for a human being.
Then he settles back down again. Because he likes it there.
This is why we write what we write. Not because someone tells us to. Not because writing is going to make us rich. Not because we have a guarantee that if we write something we find boring and insipid that it will morph our lives out of what they are now into some daily routine for which we have always longed.
But because we like it.
He doesn’t mind complaining
I have yet to meet a cat too demure to object. And I’ve lived with a lot of cats.
Some will snarl. Some will hiss. Some will fight back. And some will take you apart from the elbows down if they feel it’s necessary.
But they do not roll over on their backs and expose their bellies when they feel threatened.
Writers, especially in the early years, must fight an enormous urge to make things nice for our characters. We like them! That’s why we hang out with them! But happy characters are excruciatingly dull characters when they are put into their settings, the stories that bring them alive.
What readers really want is protagonists willing to scratch and tear their way out of every single situation they don’t want to be in.
He trusts his own judgment
Oh, it’s so easy to get derailed. It’s so easy for writers to doubt ourselves and begin to wonder whether or not this whole business of writing is not just an inanely bad idea.
But not him. He makes decisions about his life and follows through on them, no matter how hard I try to convince him he’s wrong.
Does he feel like carrying his food, piece-by-piece, out of the cat room and dropping it in the kitchen traffic lane, where he eats it at his (extremely slow) leisure?
Then that is what he does.
Does he feel like crying at the front door five minutes after he’s just come in because he likes seeing his human beings turn the knob, even if he has absolutely no intention of going outside again?
Then that is what he does.
Does he feel like expressing his displeasure with my decisions about what he is allowed to do or not to do—regardless of how or why—by leaving little calling cards that I will later have to clean up, in high dudgeon, with a sponge and bucket of soapy water, roundly cursing him and all cats that came before him?
Then that is what he does.
Has any of us ever managed to convince him that these ideas are not, in fact, the sterling guidelines for successful living that he so fervently believes they are?
No, we have not.
He spends practically all his time in dreamland
He eats, drinks, sharpens his claws, and bathes. Then he kicks his brother’s butt, curls up with him, and goes back to sleep.
Now, he happens to be a fortunate creature in that someone else buys his food, provides his clean water, and gives him someplace to sleep in comfort out of the weather.
But I also yell at him for sharpening his claws on perfectly good claw material—especially the leather armchair I inherited from my grandfather—and give him hell for all the fur his bathing leaves on my furniture.
So the business part of his life is kind of a draw between us.
Fortunately for him, a good three-quarters of his life has nothing whatever to do with any of this. He’s someplace else. . .living the lives of innumerable thrilling imaginary kitties.
A writer should be so lucky.
I know—cats are known for being indifferent hipsters in black turtlenecks and berets.
“I am zo tired of zees world before me,” says the caricature cat. “When will zey understand my geniuz?”
But cats aren’t indifferent at all. In fact, they’re the most emotional pets I know. Dogs like sticks and barking. Horses like eating and running. Rabbits like hiding. Canaries like flinging seed. Turtles like pretending to be rocks. But when was the last time you heard any of them purr?
Writers don’t write because books are sticks or food or shelter or things to be flung. (Well, sometimes that.)
We write because writing—exploring the vast panorama of human nature through very particular character traits, following devastating motivations wherever they naturally lead, picturing specific events in which wherever those motivations lead is just exactly where the characters don’t want to go, and then polishing, polishing, polishing the prose through which we’ve create these scenes until it does to the reader exactly what we want it to do—makes our insides feel good.
Writing makes us purr.