Sound Advice from Mrs. Hawkins
Posted on April 30th, 2011
On capable women
My advice to any woman who earns the reputation of being capable, is to not demonstrate her ability too much. You give advice; you say, do this, do that, I think I’ve got you a job, don’t worry, leave it to me. All that, and in the end you feel spooky, empty, haunted. And if you then want to wriggle out of so much responsibility, the people around you are outraged. You have stepped out of your role. It makes them furious.
Now, it fell to me to give advice to many authors with in at least two cases bore fruit. So I will repeat it here, free of charge.
You are writing a letter to a friend … and this is a dear and close friend, real – or better – invented in your mind like a fixation. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it was never going to be published, so that your true friend will read it over and over, and then want more enchanting letters from you.
So I passed him some very good advice … If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp … gives a cat a great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.
Three years later the Brigadier sent me a copy of his war memoirs … The book itself was exceedingly dull. But I had advised him only that a cat helps concentration, not that the cat writes the book for you.
On managing correspondence
It is my advice to everyone with too much casual correspondence, to treat it in the same way that some companies pay their dividends. The mail that comes in before Christmas should be answered by Lady Day, the next pile by Midsummer Day, that accumulation by the Michaelmas term, and the last quarter by Christmas. It is the only proper system.