Posted in Writing

Advice From Cats


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.