Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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September 2, 2015

5 Writing Lessons from Five Foster Kittens

Patient MamaI love how life hands me "lessons" when I most need them. And it's wonderful when those lessons are tied to a wish...

More than a year ago, as I played with my thirteen-year-old Siamese cat, Shogun, I thought, "I'll never have another kitten. Heck, I'll never live with a litter of kittens again." My childhood cat had given me one litter before she was spayed. I smiled at the memory and let my wish go.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from my local animal shelter, asking if I could be a first-time foster for a mother and her FIVE sixteen-day-old kittens. Of course I said yes. Then I freaked out.

I picked my family up the next day. And I've been learning every day since.

Lesson 1: You may think you're going to die, but you won't.

All six kitties were stressed with the move. I was afraid I'd lose one of them. I don't know a person who doesn't have fear going into a new environment, a new situation, with no skill-set.

I'm in the process of the final edit before I send out my YA to two agents, an editor and a publisher. My main character is facing the sudden loss of her father and a forced change in her life. She must depend on trusted friends and her wits, skill, and intuition to navigate each day. Just like my sweet mother cat. 

I'm not an emotion writer. I'm a plot-driven science fiction writer who joined RWA to learn how to write "relationships." So of course, Laura Drake, the queen of emotion in her stories, is always asking me, "Where's the emotion in this scene?" Uh, on Planet Xanadu?

I thought about my brave little mama (she weighs less than six pounds) and how she must feel. I thought about my fears. I tapped into the fear and desolation when my father died. Then I edited.

As writers, we use our own experiences to flavor our stories. The trick is getting the right blend of spices in the dish we serve to our readers. Sometimes we need to expose bits of those dark parts of us we'd rather leave in the back of the frig. Maybe that's what the adage "Write what you know" really means. We all know where we've hidden that stuff.

The Perfect PerchLesson 2: If you don't explore, you won't discover cool stuff.

As long as mom is close by, the kittens are brave explorers. But if I go into their room when mom is wandering the other parts of my house, the kittens run to their hidey-hole. It doesn't matter that they've clamored to be held, tried to climb my leg when I'm writing, or let me nip their claws.

When I write that first draft, I pour words onto the page. A new story is untraveled territory with unfolding characters. It's an adventure. It's fun. Actually, any time in your manuscript, especially if something just isn't working, is a wonderful chance to try a fresh technique, build a plot in a new way, or incorporate that brilliant idea from the last workshop you attended!

Enter a trusted critique partner, group, or mentor. I know if I get myself trapped on a ledge or wander off on a dead-end trail, my critique partners will scruff me and put me back where I belong.

If you don't have a cadre of trusted writer friends, join a group and find your support team. An interesting bonus: while you're supporting them, you'll learn in a way you can't get from articles or lectures.

Cream and BlackLesson 3: Socializing five kittens (and characters) is a lot of work.

Yes, but someone has to do it. (*Huge smile*) Feeding, changing water and litter boxes, shopping for supplies, additional cleaning. It's a more work than I anticipated. but holding, petting, and brushing my charges more than makes up for the not-so-glamorous tasks.

If you knew how much work, how many hours, how much sweat, how many tears you'd shed over your first manuscript and your characters, would you have picked something different to do with your "spare" time? Obviously not.

We're writers. Because we have to write. Getting sixty thousand, or eighty thousand, or a hundred thousand words on the paper is a lot of work. And we haven't even started with time spent editing, re-editing, pitching, querying, or submitting.

We're human. We get tired. We lose faith. But the next time I want to "pick a different hobby" (yes, a previous friend offered that advice) I'm going to remember: Socializing five kittens is a lot of work.

Lesson Four: Sometimes you have to rear up on your hind legs and fight for what you want.



The kittens are now old enough to "play fight" each other. Picture two three-quarter pound little bears, uh-kittens-on their hind legs swinging with their front paws, throwing an occasional bite to the neck. And then a third one rams them and they all roll on the floor with tiny yelps.

You wrote it. It's your voice, your vision. You've already incorporated mountains of advice and ideas from your writer friends. Sometimes, though, a contest judge, an agent, an editor, or even a trusted critique partner suggests a change  that choke-chains you. To be fair, you think about it, even try to incorporate it. But the story, the characters, the pacing go off. You think and try again, with no success. You begin to doubt yourself.

This is the time my husband calls, "Fish or cut bait." Sometimes, you have to stand up for your work, even if it means passing on an agent or a contract. After all, you are the one responsible for your writing and your career. If you sell something that is not your voice, not your passion, will you want to follow up with more of the same?

Mom takes a breakLesson Five: Purr.

Enjoy the choices you've made. Revel in your words. Live your own best story. And purr. When you finish that difficult scene, when you send off Query #415, when you capture that new idea. Just purr. You might be surprised how good it feels to let yourself enjoy each and every accomplishment, no matter how small. You're worth it. Purr.


Has life supplied you with writing lessons lately? Share your insights, tips, and purrs with us!

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Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak.  Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen.


19 comments on “5 Writing Lessons from Five Foster Kittens”

  1. Oh Fae, I need #5! I'll get it, after the deadline.

    And I'm rooting for that gorgeous momma-kitty to steal your heart to give her a forever home!

    Aw, come on....you know you want to!

    1. Thanks, Carol. This morning the kittens presented me with a wonderful first. Three of them had scaled the kitty condo and were sitting on the third level. None had made it to the first floor before. And they're trying for the "penthouse" as I write this.

  2. Kittens and writing - my two favorite things! Thank you for fostering momma and babies. Wish I could visit and snuggle with them. I most need the lesson to purr. Even when I finish a project - it's on to the next deadline with hardly a breather or pat on the back. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Yes, Deb, my little family is indeed great therapy, although yesterday they almost gave me a heart attack as I was polishing this post. Two kittens escaped from containment. One made it to my bedroom, and as I ran down the hall I panicked thinking it would make it under my bed. Thank goodness I still have some "emergency speed" in me! That rascal purred on the way back to her room. You and Laura can remind each other to purr.

  3. I second Laura's vote on keeping mommy cat. Then again, I'd keep them all. 🙂

    Lesson 5!!! Yes, yes, yes. That's something I have to remind myself about constantly. I'm so goal oriented that when I finish one, I'm immediately diving into the next and forget to take a step back and enjoy what I've just finished. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. We can all purr together, Orly. From my observations, being immersed in a pile of purring kittens is a good thing.

    1. Mama kitty goes back to the shelter for spaying on September 23rd. Her babies will be old enough to return, too. I have no doubt they'll be adopted and be well-loved. That will be a tough day for me, but I had to sign paperwork that I would return them.

  4. Thanks, C.K. I was so afraid I'd be a failure, as a foster mom but I should have known that, after living with a cat my whole life, I could do this. I've been thinking that being a foster mom would be something I could do to help many kitties have much better lives. Now I have to decide if I want "my own" cat or if I want to help other find forever homes.

    Meanwhile, It's wonderful to hear "mews" in the house again. Sighs of contentment...and little bodies rolling on the floor playing...

  5. Last Thursday I moved them from my front bathroom (they lived in the tub-for-two) to my front bedroom. Before the move, they begged to be picked up and held. Now, they can run, and they do sometimes. Can't promise anything right now, but two weeks ago, they loved being handled by the five people who came to visit. Of course, their mom was fine with it, or I never would have begun the socialization process. I'm dedicating this week-end to lots of kitty petting and holding time, including mom. We're all recovering from the shock of two kittens climbing the barricade and escaping the room yesterday as I wrote this post!

    1. And mom purrs back. In fact, she's purring now as the kittens are getting a midnight snack! She is such a good little mother! Neck rub to Mr. Cheddar.

  6. Fae, what a great post! And it came at a perfect time for me as i struggle to finish my new novella. And what a great thing to do -- fostering those kittens. I'm sure they will find good homes and be loved, as well as create a lot of love. Thanks for a really cool post!
    PS And the pictures are wonderful. Those are cute kittens!

  7. Hi James! The kittens are indeed a handful. They can now climb the four stories of the kitty condo and enjoy giggling when I rush to catch them as they swan dive off the penthouse level. They are so darned fast. Can't wait to see the new novella!

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