I faced a moment of despair when my wife casually asked me how my book was coming along during the throes of mid-term projects for my grad school classes. “It’s not,” I said, words I’d held inside me for the previous two months. And I wondered if I’d ever get back to my finished novel, the one rewritten twice and revised three times. The finished 450 page sack of birdshot hanging around my neck–how would I ever get back into it?
I read a wonderful article in Writer’s Digest a couple days ago that addressed this problem. (What problems aren’t addressed by Writer’s Digest?) The article, Important Writing Lessons From First-Time Novelists did what the title promised–the article allowed novice novelists to share their experience for those aspiring to be novice novelists. The ones in my shoes, wondering if they’d ever finish the rat bastard, wondering if the mound of words would ever be strong enough to present to potential agents.
The advice simultaneously felt uplifting and discouraging. Apparently, writing the book (and writing it well) is only about a quarter of the job. The rest takes on another life of its own–finding an agent, then a publisher, then promoting the hell out of it like a door-to-door knife salesman. I had a hard enough time even getting a few people to read parts one and two–why would I continue on a path to futility, where even if I did a great job, I’d likely never get any recognition for the insane amount of work I put into it?
But one piece of advice stood out to me, and I wished like hell that I thought of it before author Erye Price.
E. Price: I have a Wile E. Coyote glass. I’ve always associated with Wile E. Coyote because the Acme safe drops on his head and the Acme rocket skates malfunction, and the son of a bitch just keeps going, and he’s gonna get that roadrunner. And that’s what writing is, right?
Wilson: He probably has insomnia, too. [Laughter]
E. Price: He does! Because all he wants is that roadrunner. I mean, I’m sure there are other options for him. You don’t see other coyotes after that bird. There are plenty of other things to do, but if you want that roadrunner, you’re just gonna keep seeing what Acme has. To me, that’s just an inspiration. You pull yourself out from under the safe and you walk like a spring for a couple yards, and then you magically reform yourself and start over again.
He was right–he figured out the perfect metaphor for writing fiction–get that annoying roadrunner, no matter how futile it seemed, no matter how much your better judgment told you to simply give up and forget about the bird.
I much prefered Top Cat, the sacred-trickster, the hustler, the leader of neer-do-well tomcats. The cold, calculating, manipulative phony that always came through at the end of the episode with a heart of gold. How could he be my inspiration, my metaphor to keep going through the droughts and the cycles of insanity?
Five reasons Top Cat is my writing muse, through the hard times:
- He doesn’t overthink things–Top Cat gets the job done.
There’s no substitution for actually writing the book begging to be finished up, not outlining, not blogging, not daydreaming. Top Cat may be lazy when he can be (just like all of us) but once it’s business time, he’s all action.
2. He gives everyone in his gang a job.
Spook, Benny, Fancy, Brain, Choo-Choo–they all get designated jobs to solve the problem. Brain may not be very bright, but he can serve some sort of purpose. Those lovable scamps all share qualities with me, and from day to day, it’s tough to know exactly how I’ll feel about writing. Some days I can write long, thoughtful poetic passages reminiscent of Fancy’s love letters to his amour. Other days I’m quick with a turn of phrase like Spook. Top Cat realizes each of their strengths are limited and their weaknesses great. But he plays to his strengths. In a similar way, I realize that not writing is the way most of my days could potentially go. So I write to the way I’m feeling.
3. He greases the wheels.
Sometimes, getting the time to write is a balancing act. I have a wonderful and supportive wife, but still, writing is never a pressing issue that I can use to get out of a chore, social gathering, or quality time. So, I make sure I fulfill my husbandly duties before I think about writing. A nice gesture on a weekend morning may afford me some time in the afternoon, as a little writing time early might require the promise of cleaning the condo. (Though, by no means am I comparing my wife to Officer Dibble.)
4. He goes to sleep routinely, content in his garbage can.
At the closing credits of every episode, Top Cat goes through an elaborate routine before hanging up the “Do Not Disturb” sign for the night. My best writing comes from my best rest. Just as Hemingway explained in A Moveable Feast that tomorrow’s productive writing day could be killed with too much revelry during the night, I found that I need my sleep and a proper routine to get the best words on the page. The only time this isn’t true is when bouts of insomnia keep my mind spinning, where I’ve created my best characters, memorable scenes, and entire plots of short stories yet to be written. I get the feeling Top Cat doesn’t let his meandering thoughts keep him awake. So, (in lieu of writing) I’m off to ebay to hunt down a motivational Top Cat figurine to add to my collection.