Advice From Cats

or

Why You Cross the Street When You See a Writer Coming

Dale-Roe-AvatarI’ve always been fascinated by the creative process. And not the just the way we come up with ideas, but the nearly endless ways each of us has to shepherd those ideas to fruition.

It’s a time-tested method to shut off your internal editor during the process of creation. Many of us will dress this up with our own justifications, but what it all boils down to is that the inception of ideas is a process of creative thinking–and the tailoring and editing of ideas is a process of critical thinking–and those two kinds of thinking can’t happen at once. Coexistence doesn’t work because the creative can’t deal with this editor.

Of course, there is a time for that editor. The work that your internal editor does is at least as important as your raw creativity. This editor tweaks characters, tailors plots, smooths over rough scenes, or dialogue, or exposition. Without the editor, your writing would never progress beyond raw, unshaped, occasionally-clever prose.

But in order to be a decent author you need to let each of those processes have their time. Over the years I’ve developed a method to wall off my editor from my creator. What’s my secret?

My editor is my cat.

Go ahead and laugh. I’ll wait.

I don’t mean that literally, or course. I haven’t slipped that far into the realm of crazy cat guy. What I do is when I’m trying to reason something out, I explain it to my cat.

She’s helpful in two key ways. First, she’s a pretty good listener, and she’ll sit there for minutes on end as I elaborate on a tricky point. Second, she’s quite good at delivering a judgmental stare–so if I’m a bit unsure of an aspect of what I’m working on, I tend to over-explain, talking it to death. This desire to explain the rocky section, is generally a reliable sign that something’s just not working.

Now, a cat may not work as your editor. For one, you might not have a cat. Or maybe your cat doesn’t have the haughty glare of a librarian. Maybe your dog will work. My old Shih-Tzu would have been great, with those calm, wise eyes. But every other dog I’ve had would have been too willing to please.

Or maybe you are your own best editor. Maybe you can keep your two halves separate in a way I never could. Or maybe you just wind up arguing with yourself incessantly, mumbling plot devices and trying out different voices for your characters, regardless of who might be in earshot. It’s these writers who are often mistaken for schizophrenics–or Bluetooth addicts.

Just remember to keep your editor happy. A can of tuna often works.

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8 thoughts on “Advice From Cats

  1. My cats definitely try to be my editor. They are rather aggressive about it — climbing onto the keyboard and typing in what they think of my work. They usually seem to not think much of what I write.

  2. Agree about the dog… she is far too forgiving of anything I do to be a good critical listener.

    I’ve been known to go over plot holes and character issues with babies while we’re driving in the car, but it loses its magic once they start to talk back.

    I should absolutely try out my cats as potential editors!

  3. I had to laugh over this. In my house, every time my husband and I sit down to hash out our business’s problems, the dog plops down (after prancing and wagging his tail) and joins us. Like he’s part of the management group.

    Well, I guess he is.

  4. I rely on Goldie. I write, she occupies her tank. When she swims to the feeding ring, it’s time for me to change gears. Edit. Swim again, switch again. Write. If she splashes a little water, it’s a sign that I’m way off – or right on. Thing is, I have a hard time interpreting the swish of her fins. But no cat, no dog, the fish has to do.

  5. I just love this. My lovely editor kitty (she passed in December 2012) used to enjoy rubbing her face on my notebook and/or writing utensils whenever I attempted to write. It was extremely helpful.

  6. So timely. i watched Adaptation for the first time yesterday – which is essentially a fun film about the dialogue between the artist-writer and the editor-writer. Frankly I think the two can coexist, but then again, I’m a Jungian. In fact I just talked to my analyst about it today – sometimes I create in series (art-then-edit) and other times they work in parallel. Maybe I should just get a cat and save $200 a week.

  7. A cat is definitely the best choice. They tend to be more impartial than dogs, or at least they try to. I like to read my writing to my dog. He only looks at me with sleepy eyes and continues his nap on my feet ❤

  8. thanks for the giggle.. and for the thought provoking article.

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