There is a little bit of Scrooge in all writers.
In the frenzied days leading up to Thanksgiving (which of course are only a prelude to even more holiday mania), my writer pal Toby Neal and I were already bemoaning the lack of writing time. Between work, house, and kid duties, I have only a few precious hours of writing time each day. To slice and dice that time with extra errands, house guests, and cooking is enough to bring me to my knees with frustration.
Then, as I was going out for my umpteenth forgotten grocery store item, I happened to spot my cat, MiniWheat, curled in his favorite sunny spot against the cherry tree outside my barn office, and realized I could learn a lot from him.
This cat might seem lazy, but he’s always thinking about that next mouse to catch, as evidenced by the tiny headless corpses he lovingly drops at my feet. I decided to pay closer attention to his cat habits and see if I could apply them to my own writing. I may not be stalking rodents, but I’m stalking great sentences, and they’re equally difficult prey.
Here’s what I learned about writing like a cat during the holidays:
1. My cat may seem like he’s dozing beneath that tree, but I know he’s got one ear attuned to those songbirds, just waiting for the right opportunity to pounce. You can be just as vigilant. Even when you’re vacuuming before a party or sussing out Cortland apples for a pie, you can be thinking about writing. Make sure to keep a little notebook in your pocket at all times to jot down ideas or capture crisp dialogue.
2. Sometimes my cat hops onto whatever piece of furniture happens to be catching some sunlight and sleeps, whether it’s 10 o’clock or 4 o’clock. Napping is critical to the creative process.
3. MiniWheat loves to lounge on my lap—but he also loves to hang out all by himself in the back yard. Build in time alone. For instance, after the grocery store, stop off at the local diner and spend a few minutes editing. Just fifteen minutes a day can keep even the thorniest manuscript warm until you can really get back to it after the holidays.
4. First thing in the morning, MiniWheat is at the door, begging to get outside before breakfast. Through the holidays, set your alarm an hour earlier every day. Devote that time to writing before you plunge into more cooking or errands.
5. Occasionally, my cat will disappear for a few days at a time. When people ask what you want for Hanukkah or Christmas, say, “A writing retreat.”
I love this post. I have three cats – you’d think I would have learned these lessons from them before now. I actually just scheduled myself a three-day writing retreat for Dec 7-9 to try to bankroll some word count before things get really crazy.
Thanks for the great reminders!
Thanks for taking the time to read this, Edith. I love the idea of scheduling a writing retreat smack in the middle of the holidays to “bankroll some word count.” What a great idea–especially for women trying to do it all!
Maddie Dawson says
This is GREAT advice! I have been bemoaning my own lack of writing time, invasion of space, etc., even while I welcome the gratitude and good feeling of the holidays. I always think I need a clone at this time of year…but I just need to become more like MiniWheat. Grab the moments as they come, stalk the sentences where they lie. You are brilliant, Holly Robinson–and I’m thankful to have you in my life!!
Yes indeed, great advice. I hope I can follow yours as well, and welcome the gratitude and good feeling of the holidays. People like YOU make it possible to keep believing that I’m a writer, Maddie. By the way, I have publishing news: Penguin bought my new novel, but it isn’t the one you thought it would be!
Toby Neal says
I am too frazzled to grab my moments “like a cat”…though I love the image. I am going to do like Edith and “bankroll some word count”–that seems to work better for me.
Best to you on Thanksgiving!
Dariel Raye says
I love this post, too. We can learn quite a bit from our pets. I have dogs and cats, and they all have their way of maintaining focus 🙂
This is great, fun too! Just found this from Amy Shojai’s site. Our cat is starting his memoirs — he had a tough time before he found us — so I wasn’t sure which way the advice was going to go.