Are you a ‘dog’ writer or a ‘cat’ writer?
I hasten to add that this article is for fun only — I’m not suggesting in any way that you, a human being, are in any way seriously like either of these animals. But comparing dogs and cats might, in a light-hearted way, be able to tell us something about our own behaviour as writers.
You’ll see, if you decide to read on, that there’s a delicate balance to be struck between being a cat writer and a dog writer. I also hasten to add that I am both a ‘dog person’ and a ‘cat person’.
1. Dogs can be trained quickly, some in a matter of minutes, to obey basic commands like ‘come' and ‘sit’, whereas most cats are difficult if not impossible to train to respond to any kind of order. In terms of writers, this can be both good and bad: writers need to learn certain basic skills fast, ranging from a command of the English language to key computer and social media skills — and including a whole spectrum of skills about how to make their stories really work (as you’ll read in my book How Stories Really Work). But on the other hand you don’t want to be a Pavlovian dog as a writer — just because someone tells you to do something, or because ‘everyone else does it that way’, you shouldn’t feel automatically obliged to go along with it. So in this instance, the cat trait of being self-willed and ignoring orders has its place.
2. Cats can be housetrained in an instant as long as they have access to a litter box. There's really no training to it — it’s instinct for them. Most dogs take considerably longer to housebreak, and some just never get it fully. What does that have to do with writing?
Consider ‘spamming’ as something equivalent to not being housetrained. Dog writers try to leave a trace of themselves everywhere they go, dropping links where links are forbidden, placing ads everywhere, and generally trying to leave a trail to follow, as if that was the way to get people to buy their books. Cats, on the other hand, know instinctively not to spam in this way. The analogy breaks down a little, of course, as there are appropriate places to put book links and so on — but in general, the discreet attitude of cats is a commendable thing.
3. Dogs are social beings. They want to be with their pack, wherever their pack may be. This is a good thing in one way, if you’re a dog writer — you won’t miss out on socialising. But in another way, groups can be both distractive and destructive. Hanging out with your writer friends can boost your spirits occasionally, but it can also waste a lot of time — and you might pick up some of their nasty habits too.
Cats are solitary by comparison and their primary attachment is to their territory rather than other two or four-legged animals. In writer terms, this means that the cat writer loves his or her work more than a society of peers. That equals occasional loneliness, but also probably more distinctively individual work and more work actually done.
4. Cats can jump and climb, giving them more options when they need to hunt for food, or when they feel threatened. Dogs are earthbound, so they need their pack to hunt effectively. Also, when a threat triggers their fight-or-flight response, dogs are more likely to react with aggression because their ability to flee from a predator is limited. How does this translate into the lives of writers?
Well, you could say that cat writers are more adaptable, more diverse, more able to avoid the common trends or problems which might overwhelm them. Dog writers, on the other hand, probably don’t cope with rejection well and might tend to get nasty if their work is not accepted or if they encounter criticism. They probably cling to writer groups in the hope of getting assistance or support, whereas a cat writer might tend to ‘go it alone.’
5. On the other hand, while dogs may not cope with rejection, dogs in the wild catch their prey by running it down over long distances. Cats creep up on their prey and catch it by surprise and are sprinters, not distance runners. So dog writers think longer term and can persist over obstacles and exhaustion until they finally get work accepted, while cat writers might fail in terms of persistence if their work is not met with acclaim in the short term.
Related to this, cats cannot be fasted and should not be dieted down too quickly. They don't efficiently burn fat reserves and, without food, their bodies break down non-fatty tissues for energy, which can cause serious problems. Dogs are much better at using their fat reserves and can tolerate a lack of food for much longer than cats. Which in terms of writers means cat writers can be easily consumed in self-doubt, whereas dog writers tend to have thicker skins.
So, which type of writer are you? Think about it before burying this article in the litter tray.