Three weeks ago I wrote about writing lessons I'd received from the kittens I'm fostering.
Well, tomorrow I "surrender" them back to the shelter. Now that everyone, including their stellar mom, is larger and more active, I'd like to share some "larger" lessons.
- Change is scary. The day my little family upsized from a bathroom to a bedroom, instead of running
around with joy and curiosity, they huddled together in a corner. Right now the kittens are tearing apart the bags and boxes that serve as large toys and running down the hall to attack more bags and boxes. But that transition in behavior, and confidence, has taken four weeks.
As writers, we put our characters into scary situations. We throw changes into our stories to motivate character arcs, plot twists, or belly laughs. How boring would our writing be without change? As humans, without change our lives would stagnate. (No good visuals of that!) Usually when we are in the midst of change, we aren't happy. Heck, sometimes we're not even functional. Have you translated the depths of those feelings to your characters? Have you juiced every drop from the tart lemon of personal anguish (even with "small" changes) to share with your characters?
You can't climb the ladder of writing success without some discomfort, whether it's with your words or your experiences with the business side of writing. Every rung of that ladder is ripe with change.
- You will survive, Take Two. Now that the kittens are climbing (on everything!), they also occasionally fall. From high places or onto hard, pointy surfaces. Every time, the little cat stands, shakes its head, then runs right back to play.
As adults, we tend to dwell on those falls because, well, we aren't used to falling. A critique partner didn't like your log line? A contest judge thought your dialogue was irrelevant? An agent can't connect with your voice? Okay. Pick yourself up, shake your head and run right back to your keyboard and get back into the game.
- Be ready for opportunity. At night I do a head count in the kitty room before closing the door. (I have this
irrational fear of losing one of the kittens. How could I explain that to the shelter?) In the morning, I talk to the cats while I approach their door with food bowls. When I open the door, they are arrayed just inside, poised to take advantage of whatever opportunity I bring. Breakfast bowls? The barricade in the hall is down? Will I kneel to pet them? They are standing there, ready to capitalize on the moment.
As a writer, are you prepared for opportunities? Do you have that elevator pitch memorized for a chance meeting with a friend's agent? Do you have a query letter ready to go when you hear about an agent or editor looking for exactly what you write? Do your characters use opportunities in a fashion that endears them to us, or do they miss chances to improve their circumstances? That's okay at the beginning of your book, but growth is necessary for that satisfying character arc.
- Tomorrow is another day. As a science fiction writer, I can remind you that you're human. As such, you are allowed--no, expected--to make mistakes. Making mistakes is a scientifically-proved method of learning. If your writing sucks today, tomorrow is another day. If you get a rejection today, tomorrow is another day. If you didn't have time to write today because the twins have the flu and the toilet clogged, tomorrow is another day. Talk about the perfect chance for a do-over!
This could be classified as an optimistic view of the world (okay, the next day you could find out you're pregnant and all the plumbing needs to be replaced), but, as humans, we know how to make lemonade. So grab some ice and a tall glass, and relax. You will have a chance to put things right tomorrow.
- Everything you have learned and experienced gives you the tools to be successful. Mama cat was a feral cat with little human interaction when she came to me. She has learned trust. She has learned that she wants to be loved. She's even learned to play with toys. And she purrs. A lot.
Think of experiences that have shaped your life. The experience doesn't have to be fun or happy. What you take from every experience builds your character and your skill set. Oh, did I mention that if you're a writer, you can use carefully chosen experiences from your character's backstory to show why she thinks and acts like she does?
So, my time as a kitty foster mom is over in twelve hours. My job was to keep them all safe and socialize them. Turns out, they had many more jobs than I did. Tomorrow they begin the next part of their journeys--to their forever homes with loving families. Yes, they will miss each other. But they will have the opportunity to be lavished with love by someone who has just one or two cats to care for. They will get to be the sole focus of someone's love and attention.
Though I'll probably cry on the way home from the shelter (Heck, I'm crying now, and I haven't replaced the box of Kleenex on my desk they shredded last night.) I know that I've given them my all and that they will change other people's lives for the better. Isn't that what we hope for with our books?
Have you learned a writing lessons from an animal? What about a life experience that impacted your writing?
Fae 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.