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The Cat and the Ox: Finding Your Process and Staying Engaged

by Willy Doehring, River co-editor

The “Writer’s Workshop” blog posts are meant to be a collage of writer’s tips, tricks, and strategies, including the first steps to publishing, writing prompts, strategies for writer’s block, and a general jumble of ideas to help you in your quest to create and publish.


“Write every day.”

I’d wager that just about every writer has heard this before. It’s usually the first thing you hear when it comes to improving your writing, and with good reason— the more time you spend writing, the more opportunities you’ll have to improve.

The thing is, this advice used to worry me because I wasn’t writing every day; my writing seemed to come in surges with some days taken up entirely by writing while other days I wouldn’t write a word. I worried that my writing wasn’t improving because I wasn’t spending enough time with it, that I was ignoring what seemed to be the golden rule when it came to advice for writers.

My thinking changed when the poet Kaveh Akbar (author of the marvelous Calling a Wolf a Wolf, a book that I highly recommend) visited the writing seminar I was a part of last semester. When asked about his writing process during his visit, Akbar spoke about how there are cat writers and ox writers. Cat writers, he said, could go for days or weeks before writing anything at all, and would often work in bursts with long breaks in between. Ox writers, on the other hand, were those writers who really do write every day, regardless of whether they want to or how inspired they are.

So, which one is better? Some may think that the ox writer would be the better writer, since they’re inherently spending more time with their writing… right? In general, I’d say this is true— there is a reason why “write every day” is good advice, after all. But just because cat writers don’t write every day doesn’t mean that they aren’t engaging with their work on the level that ox writers are.

I’ll use myself as an example. As you’ve probably guessed by now that I’d consider myself more of a cat writer, but even though I don’t write every day I’m constantly thinking about writing. I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so I can jot down ideas and observations throughout my day, always on the looking for what will inspire my next burst of writing. Maybe it takes me three days before I put anything on the actual page, but it’s a process the works for me.

Which, of course, leads me to the point of all this: figure out what process works for you! If you find that writing every day is essential to working out your ideas or getting anything done, then write every day!  Embrace that inner ox writer! On the other hand, if you’re the cat writer type be constantly preparing for that moment of spontaneous productive energy! Or maybe you’re somewhere in between, in which case just find a process that works for you.

There’s no right or wrong way to go about writing, so long as you stay engaged.  That, I believe, is what “writing every day” comes down to.  Labeling yourself a cat writer is not an excuse to do less work, it just means your everyday process of writing is more spontaneous than an ox writer. Likewise, labeling yourself an ox writer doesn’t mean that you can write a few words down each day without actively thinking about your work.

If you’ve ever struggled with your writing process or felt as though you’re doing something wrong (as I have in the past), hopefully this column has helped put your mind at ease— or at the very least given you a look into how different writers might approach the writing process.

Until next time, happy writing!





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