CHOKE THE CAT!

I’m relatively new to writing and its challenges. I snuck in through a back entrance, propelled by a sudden urge to tell my own stories. So without knowledge of structure, and without guidance from “How To” books, I paced, chewed pencils, and cursed my way through enough chapters to produce a memoir called That’s Why You’re Here – A Journey From Grief To Metaphysical Awareness. It not only took duct tape and prayers to assemble, it took a village; namely a critique writing group and a great editor. When finished, I was full of pride, and I marked the occasion with an off-key rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.    

After I published, and sent my story into the universe, I stopped visiting my office. Daily clicks of the keyboard and frustrated groans ceased to be heard. Dead air flooded the once-active room. From the burdensome stillness a question formed. What’s next––if anything? One doesn’t write multiple memoirs unless you’re Elizabeth Taylor or Jane Fonda, and I was neither. So what next?

Since several friends wrote fiction, and murder mysteries in particular, I thought I might try my hand. Excitement rose, as a few storylines bounced around my brain. But before I could begin, I felt diligent research of the genre was needed. So once more, I was happy to be at my computer. I ordered a cargo-bay of books that were delivered by a fleet of white Fed Ex trucks. A neighbor, who witnessed the unloading, peered over the wall of Amazon boxes and asked, “Did I miss Christmas?” 

Once unpacked, I selected a book from a stack that partially blocked my front window, and my fact-finding had begun. My head pounded as each new selection cried the importance of beats, flawed characters, plot, conflict, structure, themes, A and B stories, and amazing finales. I was lightheaded from the influx of new information. Somehow I’d climbed onto a Merry-Go-Round that was out of control. Brightly painted horses lapped one another in dizzying fashion and I held the reins while the world spun. I had no inkling creating fiction was governed by so many rules.  

With absolute certainty, the paperbacks promised the tools necessary to write a blockbuster right out of the cemetery gates. I had visions that somewhere Stephen King was either quaking, or butchering, or burying something, in fear of me conjuring a bestseller.

I won’t lull you into a stupor by listing the titles that caused my eyeballs to shrivel. I’ll just say that if you’re new to writing, and on social media (which is a must so sayeth the Lord), then your shelves are populated with similar “liked” and suggested covers. The name of this piece was a subtle nod to one, as subtle as the jab of a hypodermic needle piercing a beating heart. 

Many authors went to great lengths to provide assistance to novice writers, such as myself. Their efforts were appreciated, and I’ve known many people who’ve found “How To” books helpful. I wish I could say, “Me too.”   

When the last instructive manual tumbled from my hand, it was as though an evil entity had encased me in a cinder block crypt. Buried under drab gray blocks, each cement chunk represented the dos and don’ts of writing. Into the wee hours, I’d studied my way into darkness, unable to create, and had become blind to what or why I wanted to write in the first place. Filled with fear, and riddled with “not good enough” feelings, a madness swept through my veins. The delirium crept into my quivering hands, and to my horror, I found I wanted to choke the cat! Me . . . a sworn animal lover.

The overindulgence in writing research had me flummoxed. For weeks, I stared at a television that wasn’t turned on, and I avoided my computer. It was as if all inspiration had been blow-torched, and I was sifting through cinders. 

I had to do something to escape my writer’s-slump prison. With pen in hand, I chipped away at the mortar between the blocks. With each new word my amnesia lessened, and I recalled what had brought me to writing in the first place. It was the simple joy of telling a story––to create something from nothing. The trick was staying cocooned in that pure state. Even though I might never string a word-necklace together like the storytellers I’ve admired, or write a breakout novel, I’ve learned there is something I must do. And that is to honor my own curious calling, and to bead my own creations.  

And rest assured, animal lovers everywhere . . . I promise to never choke the cat. The new plans are to stroke it, and nurture it, until it thrums with a pleased purr. 

Story By: Erin G. Burrell

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