Hey all. Gerry Boyle here. And for today’s post the plan was to write about how most writers require solitude for their craft and yet, confirming that each book come together differently, I recently wrote two good chapters on a flight home to Maine from Texas.
And it’s true. Most of us do need to be alone to do what we do. But as I set out to write this I looked around the study. And I realized that I’m never alone when I write—and I don’t mean that I’m surrounded by my characters.
I’m surrounded by cats. Within minutes of taking my seat I hear the door creak open downstairs. Then I hear the sound of pawsteps on the stairs. And then then one cat, then another, comes around the corner, leaps up onto the table, jumps from the table to the desk, intertwines with the monitor, the keyboards, rubs that cat-chin spot against the corner of the laptop.
That is followed by the ritual of putting the cat down onto the floor, whereupon she jumps back up. And is put down. And jumps back up. This continues until one of us gives up and the cat finds a comfortable spot on top of coilbound notebooks or reference books or computer power cords.
But not the lap. I can’t write with a cat on my lap.
I’m wondering what it is about the writing process that draws pets from all over the house. Not too long ago we had more of them—a faithful terrier, a scalawag tomcat, the corpulent brother of one of the present pair— and no matter where they were when I sat down at the desk, within minutes the whole crew would be gathered within arm’s length. Snorting. Scratching. Jockeying for the prime spot, the loser in that game of King of the Hill retreating to a place on a bookshelf to watch for an opening. Or watch the birds at the feeder. Or pull papers off the bulletin board. Or listen for squirrels in the woods outside the window. Or knock pens off the desk. Or circle on the carpet and then flop with a resigned harumph.
But never, ever leave the room until the writing session was over.
This isn’t true when I sit someplace else in the house. They can stroll by a couch with barely a glance. But the creak of my study chair is like the grind of the can opener. Like the Pied Piper’s rats, the pets are unable to resist. Microsoft Word is still opening when they’ve taken their places.
And as I thought about this I realized that I’m not ready to write until the gang is all there. If someone is missing or laggard I worry. Where’s Flossie? Where’s Ginger? Has something happened to them? (There have been coyotes out back. And there’s that big stray cat spending the winter in the barn.). I listen for the creak of the door being head-butted open. The sound of paws on the stairs.
Maybe they’re just the right kind of company for writing. Somebody to pet as you mull the next step in the plot. Somebody to watch as you wait for the muse to arrive. Somebody who’s there when needed but, for the most part, respects a writer’s need to be undisturbed. Somebody to offer a purr or a wag when the plotting gets tough.
The writer’s tools? Pen. Paper. Computer. Cats.
Everybody ready? On to the next chapter.
Gerry, we currently have no pets…and reading this, I’m wondering, is this why the writing is going so slowly? Do I need a set of bright dark eyes watching and bits of fur on the keyboard?
Maybe I’ll give it a try.
Love this piece. It belongs in the newspaper. In a collection of writerly essays.
Boy did this ring true. Our critters split the job of writer shadowing. Gertie, our new feline acquisition does the ‘gotta claw your leg until you pick me up’ routine as soon as I fire up the PC. After half a dozen rounds of picking her up to pat and trying to put her down, she relents and warms my feet. Bernie, the family dog has a different routine. He barks incessantly until Beth plays ball. Until that is dispensed with, she can’t get anything written.
When I don’t write at my desk, but sit in a chair with my laptop on my lap, both of my dogs circle around and bump it with their noses and try to jump up on the chair with me. They only do this when I’m writing — not when I’m doing stuff for work or something on the Internet. I like to think they’re trying to help, but I’m not sure.
This is just dear! Thank you for the warm thoughts and the memories… I had to put my beloved Persian Miss Priss to sleep not long ago… but it seems forever… I still kinda see her sneaking up on all the desks and computer table and watching my fingers, before drifting into her snooze time. Thelma Straw in Manhattan