Now, I don’t like to see any creature suffer, but Needles is special. He manages to be independent without being aloof. He greets strangers with a tongue-bath and an intense stare that says, I see you. And he is intuitive about psychological pain, often curling up in the laps of the distressed. In fact, when one of my children went through a profound episode of depression during elementary school, Needles was a rare and consistent source of comfort.
So when he fell ill and the treatment meant a big financial investment with little promise of good results, we were grateful we could afford the expense. Still more grateful when he pulled through.
Then, during a routine followup visit to the vet’s, we nearly lost him, anyway.
It was partly our fault. Because we didn’t know any better, we were making do with a hard-sided kennel meant for a medium-sized dog. That’s fine when the goal is to prevent a cat from walking around loose in a vehicle. It’s not ideal when dealing with lane-changing idiots.
Picture this: my husband forced to slam on the brakes. Momentum flinging Needles’s 6.5-pound, still emaciated body against the bars. His low-key yowling—an unfortunate and constant feature of car trips—stopping altogether. And into the ominous silence, the piercing scent of ammonia, signifying that our fastidious cat had lost control of his bladder.
Thankfully he survived, with dignity and body sullied but spirit intact.
After this near cat-astrophe we got smarter, purchasing a soft-sided, properly sized, airline approved pet carrier that Needles occasionally uses for naps.
What does this have to do with your writing?
Well, perhaps you’re like us, motoring along, making decent progress in your work-in-progress with the equipment at hand, unaware that said equipment contains built-in vulnerabilities. Why wait until a sudden jolt threatens a crisis? Periodically, take a few minutes to question your assumptions and ensure that you’re using the right tool for the right job. While you’re at it, see if you can become more efficient.
For instance, when I started writing, I made do with pen, scribblers, and Microsoft Word. Over the years, I’ve gradually come to see the following items as useful or indispensable:
Backup equipment and routine
Are you prepared for a localized computer problem such as a hard drive failure? Awesome. But is your backup system in the cloud and potentially vulnerable to hackers? Or local and vulnerable to the same house fire that could destroy the original files?
It’s worth taking a few minutes to build in true redundancy.
Please do your own research and come to conclusions about best practices, but to get you started, here’s a post from the Passive Guy explaining risks and potential solutions.
If your optical prescription is stable and you use bifocals or progressives, consider having a special pair of glasses made just for office work. The larger visual field reduces eyestrain and headache frequency, making it possible to spend longer periods at the keyboard.
Recipe cards, sticky notes, and poster board
Though I began writing as a pure pantser, once I learned to use these items, I successfully transitioned to becoming a quilter. (For me, it provides the perfect blend of reassurance that my story has a solid structure without feeling hogtied by a strict outline.) Before starting a new project, I try to flesh out my plot using one card or sticky per scene. Then I move the cards around on a segmented poster board until I’ve found the right sequence of events. Finally, I mount the board on a wall and revisit it whenever circumstances dictate a change or addition.
Want to learn more? For a good primer on plotting and story beats and an example of a plotting board, it’s hard to beat Alexandra Sokoloff’s work here.