Creativity is like a cat (with apologies to Ray Bradbury)

Bengal Cat trying to catch a Butterfly, missing it. On white Background
Bengal Cat trying to catch a Butterfly, missing it. On white Background
Image: stock photo by Andreas Krappweis

Recently I wrote a blog post exhorting writers to write even if they don’t feel like it. To write with DISCIPLINE, not MOTIVATION. Not to rely on motivation and excitement, which can come and go like fickle, flaky acquaintances who always pencil you in but rarely show up at your parties.

I stand by my advice; in the same post, I pointed to personal evidence that the butt-in-chair principle combined with a little accountability and actual goal-setting works for me. But the other day, I saw a quote by Ray Bradbury from his book Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You. Here it is:

As soon as things get difficult, I walk away. That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you. If you try to approach a cat and pick it up, hell, it won’t let you do it. You’ve got to say, “Well, to hell with you.” And the cat says, “Wait a minute. He’s not behaving the way most humans do.” Then the cat follows you out of curiosity: “Well, what’s wrong with you that you don’t love me?”

Well, that’s what an idea is. See? You just say, “Well, hell, I don’t need depression. I don’t need worry. I don’t need to push.” The ideas will follow me. Whey they’re off-guard, and ready to be born, I’ll turn around and grab them.

I adore this quote. As someone who is allergic to cats, I’ve noticed that cats are drawn to me… the only person in the room not actively calling, “Here, kitty, kitty.”

Bradbury’s wisdom—nay, genius—here is in helping us realize that forced writing is going to read like forced writing. Crappy. Dry. Non-brilliant.

However, just to be contrary, I’ll give you another Bradbury quote on writing, which I found to be rabble-rousing to my inner procrastinator:

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories—science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

How can the same person think you can’t chase ideas also think you should write every single day? In my opinion, these concepts don’t cancel each other out. Treat your ideas like cats. Make them follow you, and FEED THEM so they don’t starve to death.

What are your thoughts? How do you feed your ideas AND make them follow you like a curious cat?

3 Comments on “Creativity is like a cat (with apologies to Ray Bradbury)

  1. I'm sort of in Bradbury.1 "walk away" camp I think. Sort of.

    I write every day but not necessarily on my stories and some days my creative juices are just too sapped. I'm getting to the point where I can usually immediately tell if I'm in Mood A: wherein if I just push through the first half hour or so I'll get into a groove, or if I'm in Mood B: wherein hours on end of typing are only going to result in mess.

    So in those latter cases, I definitely just walk away. Do the dishes, clean the house, exercise, go outside, or go back to the plotting/scheming table.

  2. Thanks for your insight! I agree – balance is key. I don't blog because I think a writer has to have a blog to be successful. I blog because sometimes that's my writing for the day. And like you said, some days I'll rock the word count, and some days it takes 4 hours to write 400 words… and those 400 words will have to be heavily revised later.

    For me the "write every day" advice is more about approaching writing with discipline. If I don't tell myself to write every day, I might not write in several WEEKS.

  3. I keep constant notes when ideas strike. Even if it's just a word. Problem is, I used to keep those notes on my iPhone and as you know from my phone article, I'm trying to be less attached to the stupid thing. I'm using notes but they're all over the house, in my car, etc. But however it's done, notes are great and a perfect excuse to move onto another idea if you're feeling stuck on the current one.

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