How Writers Are Like Hamsters

When I was in college, I had a hamster named Hamlet. He was a fuzzy, golden teddy bear hamster, and of all the hamsters I’ve had in my life, Hamlet lived the longest, waddling around, shaking his little hamster hiney.

But this isn’t a sad story about my dead hamster (I mean, yeah, that part is sad, but the rest of this isn’t). Rather, I started thinking of Hamlet yesterday as I moved my writing materials from the living room back into my office.

You see, Hamlet was fond of several activities. One was running on his wheel. The other was redecorating his cage. Every couple days, Hamlet would push his house from one side of his cage to the other, clearing bedding out of his way before ultimately pushing bedding into and around his little wooden house, in its new location. This was a regular occurrence.

So as I moved my writing materials, I came up with a theory:  writers are a lot like hamsters. I’ll explain.

Hamsters save food in their cheeks. Writers squirrel away nuggets of ideas in notebooks. 

Hamsters are adorable about saving food in their cheeks, storing it up to munch on later. And in the same way, writers save up ideas. I like to think of room after room at AWP, full of writers with puffed out cheeks, saving up inspiration and ideas.

Writers are also notorious snackers. At least the writers I know. Just like hamsters.

The migratory patterns of the writer. 

My office, mid-work.
My office, mid-work.
Moving this show to my bed.
Moving this show to my bed.

The same way that my hamster, Hamlet, liked to relocate his house every few nights, I tend to migrate my office space. I have an office in our apartment, with a desk and books and pens and things. But some days, there’s no other option than to pick up all my stuff – journal, laptop, pens, paper, books – and move it somewhere else in the house:  living room sofa, balcony, or bed. And when I’ve spun my wheels there, I move everything to a new space, always relocating.

The cat is always investigating. 

My cat is always around, either sitting in my lap, at my feet, behind me, or more recently, in my bookcase, sniffing the books. I believe he gets that behavior from me. I love to sniff books.

Otis. Particularly intrigued by Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk.
Otis. Particularly intrigued by Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk.
Musty paper from 1925. Smells wonderful.
Musty paper from 1925. Smells wonderful.

Let’s face it:  writing is a lot like running on a hamster wheel.

Some days, writing feels like running on a hamster wheel:  this can be a positive or a negative. Hamsters like to run on their wheels; otherwise, I don’t think they’d do it. It’s their treadmill. They’re exercising. For writers, running on the wheel can be frustrating – getting nowhere – but it can also be beneficial. We’re putting in the time, getting the exercise, working out ideas.

So today, I salute you, little hamsters, fellow writers. We’re all just scratching around in a bunch of bedding, moving things around, making a wheel turn.

6 thoughts on “How Writers Are Like Hamsters

  1. You nailed it. I can’t tell you how often I stop writing because I get agitated and need to move things around for a bit. But I always go back to the wheel. Its allure is powerful, and I’m just so sure that someday all that running will get me somewhere.

    1. I definitely think it will! We learn things on that wheel, and those lessons take us forward in our writing. Running the wheel makes us strong for moving the house back and forth. Thanks, Jen!

  2. Your site didn’t like my last comment (“Sorry. You comment could not be posted”).

    I said that the hamster wheel seems accurate, but my experience with hamsters has been uniformly bad. When the kids were younger, we had a hysterectomy done on a hamster rather than simply letting the thing go to hamster heaven.

    But THAT’S a story I’m saving in my cheeks for another day…

    1. Eesh! That is a story indeed! My hamster developed cancerous tumors in his shoulder. I was quite a site, in the vet’s office at PetSmart, sobbing to a doctor and asking if Hamlet was in any pain. My mom and I arranged for him to just be in “hospice,” which was his same old cage with a lot of extra care and attention and very soft, clean bedding at all times.

      But perhaps I should have kept that in my cheeks – dead pets are a bit of a downer.

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