Writing Lessons From Willoughby

If there is anything I love more than writing, it's my cat.


I've had Willoughby since he was a kitten, about six weeks old at most. If you don't know the story, we found him in a gas station parking lot late at night, and the rest is history.


While we don't know his exact birthday, we needed to list a date on his vet forms, and that ended up being April 10.


Willoughby turns four this year. Since his birthday falls on a Sunday, and that's the day my weekly posts are uploaded, it seems fitting that I dedicate a post in celebration of my boy.


Pets can be a handful, and my cat is far from an exception, but they return the favor in love and in lessons. With Willoughby, some of these lessons have been related to writing.


He may not be able to type, but I figure it's only fair that I let the birthday boy have his spotlight on the blog.


Without further ado, here are a few lessons about writing I've learned from my cat.

Chase The Excitement

Willoughby may like his snoozing, but he's also a very active lad.


His favorite toy these days is a bowl with a ball that spins around a track running along the bottom rim. Sometimes, he'll lay on the floor and bat that ball back and forth or give it a good smack in passing, but he'll also follow it around until it stops rolling; he's even managed to pop the ball out about a half-dozen times!

Willoughby also has his designated windows for birdwatching and squirrel monitoring. Should something prompt him, he's quick to run from one spot to the next, whether that means crossing the living room or dashing downstairs to look out the front door.


When something catches his eye, he goes after it, and that's the mentality I've taken towards writing.


In choosing which story idea to work on next, one consideration I rely on heavily (and often more than others) is excitement.


You're going to working on this project for a while. Years, even. That means it's truly important to make sure the story is one you want to invest that much time in.


There needs to be a spark. Something about that particular idea that captures my attention. No matter if it's a character, a vague fragment of a scene floating around my mind, or a topic of interest I want to explore, chasing that excitement is what makes writing fun for me.


Chilling Out

While he certainly has a playful side, Willoughby also enjoys a good nap.

I realize I'm a bit biased here, but I don't think I've ever seen a cat get as cozy as he does. There are a few positions he favors, from laying belly up on the rug to curling up on a chair so that he's holding on to his back feet. Suffice it to say, he knows how to make himself comfortable.


Writers are often told they need to write every day. After all, practice makes perfect, so devoting even a few minutes to writing a couple of lines is bound to promote improvement and help hone in on your skills.


However, it's also important that you take occasional breaks from writing.


Shutting off your writing brain can seem impossible because writing isn't only about writing. Chances are when you step away from your computer or your, your thoughts are still churning. Untangling problems, filling in plot holes, going over the pros and cons of scrapping a scene—you name it! We also devote plenty of time to studying other media, daydreaming, editing, and so on. It can feel like you are always on the clock in one form or another.


Taking a step back can be the best thing for your WIP. Time away can bring new perspectives to your work and help you better identify its weaker points; this is why many advise shoving your WIP in a drawer for a few weeks after finishing a draft.


Breaks also prevent burnout, which is something I became incredibly familiar with last year.


Around this time in 2021, I was getting my footing in a new job, editing in circles with one WIP, starting the first draft of a new project, and trying to keep up on blog posts. Not to mention living in a pandemic.


It was a hard decision, but I ultimately decided to take a break from it all. For a few months, I set everything aside to regroup. Coming back was challenging, but I felt so much better than I had when I was spreading myself too thin.


Taking a hiatus from blogging and writing in general brought about changes in my perspectives and helped me recognize changes I needed to make throughout my projects and to my overall approach.


You may feel pressured to be constantly working on your WIP, but giving yourself time to relax will help you in the long run.


Stay Curious

They say that curiosity killed the cat.


Well, so far, Willoughby is alive and well despite his curious nature.


His inquisitiveness is adorable. Whenever we return from shopping, he has to investigate the bags, especially if anything smells like cat food. Sometimes, his meows will go up in pitch ever so slightly, the way a human's voice changes when posing a question, or he'll tilt his head to the side when pondering something. If something is new or different, he has to check it out—from a safe distance and with the utmost caution.


There is something to be learned through Willoughby's sense of wonder.


Writing is an art of exploration. As we tell our stories, we dive into our emotions, revisit memories, and test out possibilities. Research sends us down rabbit hole after rabbit hole until we've lost track of time. Seeing things from a new perspective is a skill writers must learn.


Staying curious helps us do just that.

Cats are interesting creatures. They might carry a reputation of being aloof or having inflated egos because they don't demonstrate affection as openly as a dog might, but they still make wonderful companions as well as teachers in their own right.


Willoughby has been by my side through a lot, including several first drafts, endless editing stretches, and a brief dip in the querying trenches. He's become the perfect writing partner in the four years we've been together and I'm looking forwards to seeing where we go next.


Happy birthday, Willoughby!



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