Pretend I’m a Kitten

Three newborn kittensWhile critiquing my writing, please pretend I’m a kitten. Because while I’m as feisty as they come, I’m also sensitive. This is not always a great combination. Sometimes I can serve it, but can’t return it. Sure, I’ll dish it, but I refuse to eat it. Mess with the bull, you’ll get the blubbering mess who has torn the horns from her scalp and is trying to stab herself with them while bemoaning, I don’t deserve to be so forsaken. I’m human; I have those days. For now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume every day is one of those days. And also that I’m a kitten.

Let’s role-play. Here I am, walking into our writing class/meetup/poetry jam/critique group/creepy online chat room. I might look put together because my shoes match my scrunchie, but that will be a fluke. Here’s the truth—on the inside, I’m a disaster. It doesn’t matter why. After this meeting, I’m thinking about tying a bunch of twigs together and floating myself out to sea, beckoning large black birds to come feast slowly on my vital organs, killing me softly with their beaks. (You can sing that last part.) I even brought some Styrofoam in my trunk in case the twigs aren’t buoyant enough with my weight on them, but I’d rather not use it because our oceans have enough problems without an additional slice of something with a gazillion year half-life. I will die miserable, but on good terms with our planet.

Before I take myself out, I’ve brought something to read aloud, and it stinks. Of course, it stinks, I wrote it while feeling sorry for myself. This piece reeks of Eau de VICTIM. Few people can get away with VICTIM as their theme. If the main character is a whiner, she better be darn good at something else too. As in, she’s a whiner but she bakes a crazy good cheesecake. Or, she’s a whiner, but she’s also a psychotic axe-murderer who held the word record for underwater hula hooping in 1985. Whining solely to air injustices doesn’t work. I hate to be so bIack and white about things; maybe there’s a person who can pull this off. In general, my thought is that whining is what journals and therapists are for.

Back to our group thing. It’s finally my turn. I read my woe-is-me story out loud (because I have a lot of them, in my journal). There is an extended moment of silence. You want to say, NO. Erase. Redo. Start over. Now is when you should remember that I’m just a kitten. I have big paws that I trip over. I fall asleep in crazy places and funny positions. I make noises that are considered adorable by cat people and, more often than not, I’m scared, but I puff up to look tough. Kittens like me prefer constructive criticism, because we just got here, and we have a lot to figure out. So please, tell me the truth because I’ve come here to learn and improve, but say it with kindness.

Here at, we encourage you to embrace your feisty side, the part of you that says, “Here’s my story, no apologies!” We also remind you to create more distance between yourself and the parts of you that shun praise but shed all armor when baseless criticism is fired straight at your guts. People can be jerks. But not us feisty writers! We are gentle and helpful when people share their truth with us, even when their truth smells like a box of cat turds. We go easy. I’m a kitten; you’re a kitten. Let’s play around and be open and curious with this craft we love and encourage others to do the same.

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