Friday, 24 August 2012

Here's Looking at You

Writers often talk about the many things that inspire a piece of writing. But what about our individual approaches to writing?

Take our cat here, shamelessly posing at the window (in the hope of more food). She, like pretty much every cat I've ever met, is a masterpiece of individuality and integrity. 

What can she teach me about being a writer? I put it to her and, once she'd finished a power nap, she offered me the following kitty wisdom.

1. Be true to yourself, like a cat. Cats don't play pretend. 

[Translation.]
Cats don't chase an 'idea of themselves'* or craft a profile based upon social media demographics. They don't commit to anything they don't want to do - because they know that doing so means they're less likely to get fulfilment from it. And cats love fulfilment.

2. You don't need to be a cat whisperer to figure out what's going on in that furry head - tail, demeanour, voice - it's all there. 

[Translation.]
Be honest with yourself and other people. Make space, make time, make demands if you need to.

You became a writer for you, first and foremost, to temper yourself in the fires of your enthusiasm. Don't blow it on writing anything you don't believe in or feel comfortable with - and that includes reviews for other people, blog posts, comments, the dreaded FB likes and all the other techno-wizardry that take time way from the page.

3. Don't apologise for being the cat that you are. That beautiful, luxuriant, bird-killing, slug carrying, yowling fur bag of delights. 

[Translation.]
Don't apologise for the writer you are. Romantic fiction? Faith writing? Poetry? Vampires? Dirty limericks**? If it matters enough to you to want to write about it, that's all that matters.

4. Stay light on your feet and alter your plans as your needs arise. No regrets, no justifications. The human thighs that start out as a pillow may yet need to become pin cushions - that's just the way it is.

[Translation.]
Change your genre. Change your mind. Change your allegiances. Change your perspective. Above all: write. Unless it's time to stop for a while!

5. Ask if you need to, but don't expect. Believe me, I've sat at that cat dish for a good five minutes before any cheese arrived. I should have done what I did one Christmas, and just helped myself from the plate.

[Translation.]
Be honest about your needs, and allow others to be honest about theirs. Most writers are a supportive bunch by nature, but they're not psychic (well, some of them maybe). There's no shame in asking for a favour, and no offence to be taken when the answer is 'no'.

How this blog post came about (apart from the cat and the typing part, obviously).
I listened to a serialised drama on Radio 4 recently - The Other One by Oliver Emanuel*** - and I was mesmerised by it. The kind of rapt attention that makes you stay listening in your car until it's over, even though the oven chips are melting. The story was compelling, and the direction and acting just perfect. And I started to think about how often I write a piece of fiction that's just 'okay'. Not terrible or anything, only not gleaming either. It all starts with the initial premise, but more than that, it seems to me, it starts even earlier with the initial premise of myself as a writer. And how I got from that to the cat is another story.


* Although they probably would if it was tied to a piece of string.
** As if you hadn't already figured that one out.
*** Oliver has very kindly agreed to an interview, when he has some free time. If you have any questions about radio drama, send them in a comment and we'll try to get them covered.

7 comments:

Suzanne Furness said...

I love your cat! They are such individuals aren't they. I enjoyed reading this post, thanks.

Joanna said...

Lovely post, thank you. I watch our cats a lot and wish I could change places with them. It's not that I don't like my human life. I just think I am meant to be cat.

Thrifty Gal said...

Great post. I want a cat!

Debs Riccio said...

Brilliant, Derek, just what the Cat Whisperer ordered! (I particularly welled up at the 'write for YOU' part which I'm afraid I've lost my way with ....so thanks x)

Derek said...

Hi all, and thanks for your comments. Our cat and I appreciate it. Porsha is a paragon of feline common sense. (Apart from sitting out in the rain - although she does enjoy that.)

Hand on heart, Debs, I too lost my way a bit in the desire to be all things and please all people and investigate all markets. Then I realised that it was more like a job and less like a vocation. And that mattered. So once Covenant has left the nest, I'll be reorganising my time and my focus. Maybe I'll have a manuscript car-boot sale! Anyone in need of a sitcom script, some shot stories and a batch of articles?

Kath said...

:) I am so trying to hang onto this idea of being myself as a writer. A timely boost as always, Derek, so thanks.

Derek said...

Hi Kath. It's all just a cloud of ideas and a field of potential. The judgements come from outside of ourselves and they're based on arbitrary values assigned by those we consent to consider experts.

If you've written something, you're a writer. That, of itself, doesn't confer anything other than a recognition of what you do. But...that recognition frees us up to do it!

Sod 'em, I say.