Monthly Archives: July 2011

Writing at home: How to deal with cats

One of the greatest pleasures of the freelance writer’s life is the ability to work from home. The benefits are too numerous to even begin a respectable list, and if you have a plan for where to write you can get your work done and then bam! You’re home already.

But if you’re a freelance writer, chances are you have a cat. While this may provide the same amount of pleasure as working from home–and is, indeed, one of the “too numerous” pleasures of working from home–it can also be a horrible, horrible drain on productivity. So how should the writer deal with cats who come to say hello when you are deep into writing? There are a few options.

Option 1: Ignore him.

This is not a viable option nine times out of ten. Sure, he looks fine there, but as you can see I don’t even have my document open. I’m chatting with Emily and looking at some emails. He has broken me from my concentration (I assure you I really was writing just before he came along! Honest!) with his kitty wiles. Plus, before and after this photo he was doing some sort of kitty pushups, putting himself right in front of the monitor and staring at me, at times nuzzling my hand. It becomes impossible to refuse.

Which brings us to:

Option 2: Give him what he wants.

This option seems like a really good idea at the time. All he wants to do is sit on my chest, hug my neck, and purr loudly in my ear. This lasts for about two minutes. Then, he wants to jump back onto the ground (not before digging his claws into me to let me know he’s finished), jump back onto my lap, jump onto the ground again, back onto my lap, then back onto the desk, then do a quick full-speed sprint around the apartment, then back to my desk, and so on. The pestering becomes something you can’t really ignore, because he’s so right there all the time. And by this time being held is no longer what he wants.

Option 3: Close the door (not viable, not even for a second)

Totally untenable, unless you can deal with the inconsistent, non-rhythmic, constant scratching and picking at the door. Because, after all, cats are always on the wrong side of a closed door.

Option 4: Kitty jail

Your deadline is at 5pm and it’s 4:30 and you have 90 minutes’ worth of writing to do. Still, your cat pesters you. Ignoring him did not work. Giving him what he wants worked for a very short time but in the end only made things worse. He will make entirely too much noise on and around that door and you will always be able to hear it, no matter how loud you turn up your music.

This is how I invented Kitty Jail. It’s simply an overturned laundry basket on the bed. I’ve been accused of cruelty for employing this, but there are two problems with that accusation. First, that basket is super light, and if he really wanted to that cat could escape from there in no time at all. Second, my writing fills his food bowl, so he can suck it.

The Three Blogging Hurdles Writers Face

Last night I was at the MN Publishing Tweet Up and I found myself getting really insightful somehow.

We were discussing blogging, and I noted that as a Writer (capital W*) I find it very difficult to blog. In fact, I suggested it is possibly the most difficult for Writers as a class of people to blog, because, as a class, Writers tend to be somewhere on the spectrum of hyper-self-critical to purely self-loathing. This has been my observation since my days at the Arts High School.

This is exacerbated when a Writer is confronted with the task of blogging. With a manuscript (or a magazine article, or a fortune cookie), the Writer can sit and stare at it for weeks, swap out words, delete and then re-add whole sections, and he is given lots of feedback form an editor. There is a process. But with blogging, the Writer has to sit down and publish instantly. Because of this, he must overcome the following:

1. Believe that the idea is good enough to be a blog post.

As a Writer all we have are ideas. Which idea is worth writing about? I mean, I bet no one really cares about this. Yeah, this is stupid idea. I won’t even bother opening my blog. Not worth it. Nope. 99.9% of potential blog posts never make it past this point. I make no value judgement on that fact.

2. Actually think the idea has legs once you start writing the blog post.

Once the Writer has been able to open his blog and begins to write, each word that follows it is another nail in the coffin of the idea. Each word makes the blog post worse, no matter what. The Writer must be able to maintain the confidence in the idea (one difficult task) and really feel like he’s making it clear with his words (a second difficult task). Most of the blog posts I write meet their fate at this stage.

3. Think the idea was done enough justice in the blog post to warrant publishing it.

After finishing the blog post, it has to be good enough to publish. The problem is, the only person to reassure the self-loathing Writer that what he just wrote is any good is the self-loathing Writer. This rarely ends well. (The smart Writer will save this as a draft and simply let it sit there, hoping it inspires him in some way down the road. Others will simply delete it.)


I should note that this impacts Writers almost exclusively. Dara from the Loft noted a case where a friend of hers works in another profession (baking, if I recall) and can’t spell for shit, but blogs vociferously. He does not have this problem, because he’s not a Writer.

(As a Writer myself, I was able to overcome these three hurdles by having my ideas validated in person by Jen. Thanks, Jen!)

*I hate using the capital W, but I really want to delineate Writers as a class from people who write, no matter how well, but do not identify as Writers.

Where You Write Matters

I have been staring at this blog for three weeks with analysis paralysis. Ever since the 2010 Minnesota Beard-Off it has become very obvious to me that I can do awesome things if I just do them. But for some reason I need to open three new tabs and navigate to Facebook in each one of them instead of writing. And I do this, in spite of the fact that I know the only way to get published is to write. I figured writing here would help me write elsewhere, which it probably will, if I can actually get myself to write here. But the fact remains that I’m sitting at home for hours not writing.

Emily and I live in a two bedroom apartment, partly for the extra square feet, but also so I can have an office. As I am starting my freelance writing practice (new contract being sent today! Hooray for paid writing! Suck it, non-paying writing!) I have said it’s really nice to have an office at home. It is nice insofar as I have a door I can shut when we want to focus on different things, but for the ten hours a day when I’m by myself it does not inspire creativity. It has been my default position for everything: writing (both professionally, semi-professionally, and personally), StarCraft 2, cat videos on YouTube, and everything else. But really, working in my office dilutes my ability to focus on the writing I want and need to do. If I’m going to make more money than Emily (because this is a contest), then I’m going to need to start getting published a lot more. And that means writing a lot more. And the office with my Everything Computer has been absolutely shitty for that purpose.

I think I have had my best writing luck when I turn off the Internet. When I did National Novel Writing Month last year, I needed to write 20,000 words in three days, and I got it done only after I unplugged the router (pro tip: a bottle of wine will not take the edge off two pots of coffee, but it’s still fun to try). Today I have moved from my computer (a desktop) to Emily’s computer (a laptop). I am less easily able to log into Facebook (I have to log her out first), and feeling like a guest on the computer somehow helps me focus. I have also moved from the dedicated space of the office out into the living room. Oddly, out here my cats pester me much less.

So, my advice based on what I’ve been able to accomplish so far is to explore strange, new writing areas. Seek out new lighting and new isolation. And so on. Lock yourself in a room, TURN OFF THE INTERNET, and maybe then you’ll allow yourself to just do the writing you need to do. And maybe I will too! I hope.