Advice for a Young Cat-Lover Who Writes

Learn to make a fair trade.

You walked into my store (with your very cute glittery cat shirt) and left your mother browse the chapter books and young adult books for you while you chair-hopped til you found the comfy one in view of the register. Mistake one. You could have been bonding with your mother (who was already primed to buy you a book) and found something really interesting that would have kept you quiet for a few hours at a time (a thing all parents value).

Sitting in the comfiest chair in the store, you spotted the cat magnet on display and started shout-haggling with your mother across the store. Mistake two. Not because I don’t appreciate yelling in a bookstore, I legitimately love when kids do that.

But you’re mother hates it. She wanted to buy you a book (bond with you in quiet store, quiet time to herself while you both read), and you decide to yell to her across the store in front of strangers about a magnet. Here’s the thing about magnets on the counter, they’re what’s known as an “impulse buy” because people grab them at the last second while already purchasing something larger.

Basically, if you had stood by your mother’s side and picked out a book with her and then she brought it to the counter to purchase it and then you “noticed” the magnet, it would have been an easier sell. She would have been thinking this is a nice outing, that there was nothing about the outing she would have been annoyed to be reminded of Every Single Time she went to the fridge to get herself some juice. But instead you ditched her and then embarrassed her and she rightly chose not to give you something you wanted in exchange for the unwanted experience you were all too “generous” to gift to her.

Which is why when you then noticed the cat journal, you were never going to successfully upsell her like that. Upselling works in one of two ways:

  1. You sell someone something large to middling in size and then sell an add-on; or,
  2. You sell them on level one which then primes them later for maybe buying level two.

You failing to sell her on the little thing means she isn’t primed/in the mood to get you anything remotely larger than that. And you going from smaller annoyance for smaller item to threatening a larger annoyance in exchange for a larger item shows you’ve got your proportions right, but your angle all wrong.

If you want to receive something you enjoy, the other person needs to receive something they enjoy. Give positive value to receive positive value. You frustrated her in the store, she frustrated you by taking you out of there empty-handed.

Learn this now, while you’re young, and you’ll find all sorts of uses for it later. I know you weren’t listening carefully enough when I convinced you to leave quietly with your mother (which I did for her sake because I was babysitter/nanny for 15+ years and have a much higher tolerance for all sorts of malarkey) so I’ll use how I convinced you as an example:

First, I Sold You and Your Mom on Me

When your yelling revealed that you “owed” your mother money and you thought owing her “more” money was a selling point (only “true” if you’re capable of large payouts in a timely manner, which I suspect you aren’t given that you are a child), I suggested that maybe with this purchase she could start adding interest to your debt and teach you about credit cards.

She got the joke that was meant for her and knew I was on her side.

You didn’t get the joke, but I was standing physically closer to you and talking about a purchase being made which all combined in your child-brain to make you think I was on your side. Which I was, I was just more on your mom’s side given that I’m a recovering hoarder and don’t want that future for you.

Then, I Sold You on Leaving “Comfortably.”

Your mom hadn’t found the specific book she was looking for to buy for you (and you hadn’t helped her pick out an alternative), so she decided that it was time to leave.

Like a cat clawing at a mouse-hole, you went from begging for a magnet to making threats over a journal. Right proportion, wrong angle.

She reminded you of all the journals you have at home you haven’t filled yet.

And when you said “If you buy this for me now, then I’ll leave comfortably for you.” I knew that the word “buy” was all it was going to take to snare you, m’dear.

BTW, I’m a gingerbread witch/fairy godmother, knowing what treat will point you towards your next adventure is my specialty. So I said:

Listen, if you go home and get your journals and bring them to me filled with all your words I will buy you that journal myself.

I know you and your mom heard the bit about filling the journals, I don’t know if you heard about bringing them to me. You were out of the door too fast, too ready for the adventure you don’t see coming as your mom said “Did you hear her say words? That means it can’t be the same word over and over again.”

She said that because of everything I’ve just written out for you, we are exchanging equal value: you are giving me all that you can in this moment, I will be giving you the ability to do more.

I wonder what you’ll give in your writing. Will you write for reward with no thought as to whether anyone will read it beyond cursory glances to make sure they’re filled with more than one word? More than one sentence?

Will you start writing for the reward and then suddenly remember I asked you to bring them to me and start writing with me in mind? Will you start writing for the reward and then get discouraged because stick-and-carrot systems discourage your brain from caring about the thing you cared about in the first place? Will you start writing for the reward and end up writing for yourself, lost in all the worlds that yours to make?

I’m doing this because you sold me on you, which is your job as the hero of your story (just as my job as a fairy godmother is to test you this way). You have words and you have angles and you have confidence, and I want you to learn to focus all of it on the quests that await you.

Welcome to life in a fairy tale, kid. I’ll see you on the next leg of your journey.


Originally published at Better Storytelling.