Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wisdom from the Cheshire Cat

Every writer I've ever met (whether in life or online) has their own 'go-to' books when they look for answers to tricky situations. I have them as well, but I have learned to never underestimate the intelligence of a certain familiar feline.

He's the grinning cat who appears and disappears at will. He can have different parts of his body stay visible and he is excellent at answering questions if you can decipher his code. I've decided that some of his wisdom can be applied to writing.

Quote #1:
[Alice asked]"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. "I don't much care where--" said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

Here is every writers' dilemma whenever they begin a new project. Which way ought I to go? I take the cat's words to heart; I decide where I want to get to. I will know the solution to my plots long before I ever start the actual tapping on my keyboard. I will know all the major points of my myriad of plots and will outline them all from beginning to end. Certainly, things will change in the actual writing, but I know where I'm heading. If you work without an outline, you'll never know where you'll end up. If this sort of adventure appeals to you, then you will take strength from the last part of the quotation; as it truly won't matter which way you go.

Quote #2
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

The writing lesson found in this quotation is that, as writers, we must have patience. If you have a destination in mind you will eventually reach it. The rather nasty part is that there seems to be no definition of how long constitutes 'long enough'. Some writers can finish their journey in a few weeks. Some take months or years. Everyone has their own 'long enough'. Accept it.

Quote #3
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

I don't think that writers are mad, but let's be honest, we are a little strange. We spend large amounts of time alone. We have very active imaginations that enable us to invent entire worlds and we will happily spend hours there. Most of us are not the most social of creatures and although we have a strong voice when we write we often find ourselves suffering from laryngitis in the 'real world'. But you're here aren't you? Whether by accident or by determination, you're a writer. Accept and embrace the madness which always comes with creativity.

The Cheshire Cat is a wise and wonderful creature. I hope these few words may help you negotiate your way through your own Wonderland.


  1. Elspeth - The Cheshire Cat is, indeed, a wise creature! I really like your second quote, "...if you only walk long enough." It's a nice, upbeat message about perseverence : ).

    I think my favorite "go-to" character for my writing challenges is Ariadne Oliver, Agatha Christie's fictional detective novelist. It's not so much the words she says, funny and sometimes wise as they are. It's more her ability to laugh at herself, her attitude towards her books (she never takes any of them too seriously, although she does care very much about writing well) and her creativity.

  2. Excellent use of a literary classic to teach contemporary writing, Elspeth. Wise words indeed, and love your explanation and appication of them to our craft.

    The Old Silly

  3. Ah, Elspeth, I love revisiting The Cheshire Cat. (When first I encountered him, our teacher reading aloud at the head of the class), I was afraid, and his responses to Alice's questions very much frustrated me. Your analogy rings so true. We sit down at the keyboard knowing what we want to write, and, as you pointed out, we may even have an outline, but the path is ours to forge. Making that journey is my favorite part of writing. I get an adrenaline rush when that path leads me to unfamiliar places. Thoughtful post, thanks.

  4. "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" for us creative types. There are days when I feel more mad than others. The Cheshire Cat is a wise feline.

    I never much thought about a go-to character, but now that I do, I think it must be the King of Siam because I often write myself into corners where I scratch my head and mutter, "'Tis a puzzlement."

  5. I'm finally making my way back into civilization! Thanks for the post. It felt like an appropriate welcome back, haha!!

  6. Margot; Ariadne Oliver is very wise with exactly the right attitude toward her work (IMHO)

    Marv; Glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to write.

    Elizabeth; I agree, we must all find our own paths. Sometimes, there's a cat smiling up in the tree to help!

    Carol; I agree with the King of Siam. The trick is to keep dancing!

    Karen; Glad to be of help, and every good luck wish goes your way.

    Elisa; Welcome back! So glad you're starting to feel more human and less like a swine!

  7. What a delightful post. I love that you used the quotes to make your points. I think that approach really cements the lesson.

  8. I *love* the Cheshire Cat. He seemed to have a better grip on reality than most of the characters around Alice!

    Wonderful tips that I'm going to tweet...

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  9. You have the best analogies!! I love the Cheshire Cat - I remember trying to get my various limbs to become invisible. I'm assuming I was pretty young :)

  10. Wonderful post, Elspeth! I adore Lewis Carroll and the Cheshire Cat is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. Brilliant way to help us along in the writing craft.


  11. Maryann; Thank you! The quotes are great, aren't they?

    Elizabeth; Thanks so much for the tweet; it's greatly appreciated.

    Jemi; I played The Cheshire Cat once; I had a wonderful time. Thanks for your kind words.

    Jen; Thank you! "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" are two of my favourite pieces of literature.

  12. It takes being a little strange to make a difference in the world, I think. It seems strange to me for people to go through life NOT writing. To just get up every day, do their routine, and go to sleep at night without doing something magnificent!

  13. Hi Elspeth.
    When you have time, please stop by my blog at http://coffeeringseverywhere.blogspot.com/2009/10/passing-on-heart-of-dragon-award.html where I have passed on The Heart of the Dragon Award to you for sharing your world and therefore expanding my own.

  14. Oh, this advice is wonderful. I don´t quite know how to apply it, but I loved reading your post!


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