My cat, Sugar, has come to live with me. Since I don’t like her cat hair getting into every nook and cranny of my house, I have decided to return her to her roots of being an outdoor cat. She doesn’t like it. In fact, she’s fighting me almost every step of the way. She apparently takes after her owner in her stubbornness.
As I’ve been attempting to train my cat, I’ve had time to think about how that training isn’t all that different from the training needed for the writing life. An odd associative leap, to be sure, but one that works. How have I been attempting to train my cat?
Treats. Check that, bribes. I don’t particularly care for this method. I know my cat is supposed to associate a good thing with going outdoors, but I can’t say it’s worked very well. She gets her treat, then immediately trots to the door and starts pawing at it. I then have to scold her about scratching the door. She may be small, but it sounds as though she could tear down the door with her bare paws and claws.
When it comes to writing, I have to confess to using treats. I tell myself if I write a certain number of words or a certain number of posts or if I finish a particular project, I can reward myself. It might be something small, such as my favorite indulgence: sugar free, French vanilla cappuccino. It could be an adventure to the mall just to get outside my house and away from my writing for an hour or two. Such treats work; I look forward to them, and they give me a chance to recharge before I tackle the next writing or editing project.
Safety harness. I decided to buy a harness for my cat. Part of it was the desire to help her become acclimated to the outdoors; the other part is a perverse notion that it would be a lot of fun to be able to walk my cat. Sugar is not responding to the harness well. She slinks along the ground as though she’s carrying ten pounds on her back. I think she’s becoming accustomed to the boundaries that the harness creates. At least, I hope she is. Those boundaries can create a sense of security so that she’s less afraid to venture around the backyard.
The writing life has its own harnesses. Some of them are the boundaries the writer creates. Some are the constraints placed upon the writer by another person, such as a professor or a writing consultant. The writer placed into that harness may dislike it much as my cat does, but the harness is meant for his or her own good. It’s meant to give the writer a safe place so that he or she can start to push against and cross the boundaries. Eventually, the harness will be removed so that the writer can venture into the writing life on his or her own.
Out in the cold. I sometimes try to put my cat outdoors for a few minutes at a time. I do not accompany her on these trips; I push her out the door and close it. I then endure the mewling and scratching for as long as I can stand (It’s not long.), then let her back indoors. I think I need some training in this area. I need to let her be and ignore the complaints for longer than a minute.
With the writing life, writers are on their own. They may have some sort of harness, or they may be in a workshop or writing group. They still are on their own every time they start to write. They are out in the cold, and, sometimes, the best thing a professor or writing coach can do is to tell that writer to go work in isolation for a while. The writer has to wade through the struggle of starting and continuing, and the professor or writing coach has to be strong enough to let that writer do so.
If anyone is wondering how the training of my cat is going, it’s, well, going. Right now, she’s hunkered under my bed. She isn’t supposed to be in my room at all, but she’s there, under the bed, lying in a spot where I can’t reach her unless I pull out a broom and prod her from her bunker.