Wednesday, July 22, 2009


First off, let me just say that there are multiple definitions of the word "niggle." In case you are one of those noble people who concerns yourself with such trifles as "accuracy," well, here you go.

For years, it would--ahem--seem that I have been using the word Niggle incorrectly. But my incorrect usage has become such a part of my personal lexicon that I'm afraid we're just going to have to let it stand. Onwards.

So what, you might ask, does the The Annoying Niggle mean to Alexa Martin?

Well--it's complicated. Hijacking words for your own personal usage is inherently a risky business. That said, The Annoying Niggle has been a hallmark of my literary career. The Annoying Niggle begins as a little whisper in the back of your head, usually at a HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE MOMENT, like say, for example, when you finally think you've got your story all mapped out and you're imagining the Oprah interview.

At first The Annoying Niggle will be just a mosquito of a sound.

Let me assure you right now: there will be blood.

"What if?" the annoying niggle asks.

The what if is always--ALWAYS--something HIGHLY INCONVENIENT that will spin your story or character 180 degrees. It will involve HARD WORK. It will involve LETTING GO of VERY IMPORTANT THINGS like knowing the outcome of your book. In worst case scenarios, The Annoying Niggle suggests QUITTING a book that ISN'T WORKING!

The horror. The horror. But there is hope, dear reader. Soldier on!

As I write this from my dad's computer--let me also just add that I am, temporarily, at the age of 36, living with my parents again (this is another story altogether and one I won't titillate you with today, but suffice it to say this little adventure is very much helping me to get in touch with the mindset of my teen readers since I have reverted back to being a moody adolescent who mutters expletives under her breath when asked to do the dishes) there is black cat sitting beneath the window outside. It meows.

This cat showed up on Saturday. I had just returned from a run. Sitting on my parent's front porch, sweat dripping from my brow I heard this plaintive cry coming from underneath our hedges. Being somewhat familiar now with The Annoying Niggle I knew. I knew.

My mother came out a short while later. "It's a stray," I said.

"It's a neighborhood cat," she insisted.

Hours later the cat was still there, meowing at the front door.

"This cat is looking for a home," I said. I knew.

"Don't you dare feed it," my father said.

"It's a neighborhood cat," my mother insisted again. But later on that night she sent me out on a black ops mission to feed it some tuna. "Just don't let your father see." She knew.

The cat was still there in the morning. This time with its nose pressed to the glass door at the back of our house. Meowing louder. Much louder. "It will go away if you ignore it," my father said. "It's not our problem." He sounded just a little too defensive though.

Over the past several days this mysterious black cat has flitted back and forth between our house and that of our next door neighbor's. It has become the primary conversation topic around here. "This is a smart kitty," my mother (who claims not to like cats) says. "An exceptionally nice kitty." She pets it. She has bought it food.

Our next door neighbors have fallen in love with the cat--with the exception of the dad. Who also claims to "not be a cat person." Whatever. He doesn't understand that he doesn't really have a choice about the matter. The mom smirks and tells me her daughter Megan arrives home from camp on Saturday. "It will be a done deal then."

Last night as I was doing the dishes, I glanced out the window and saw my father petting, nay, encouraging it! "He seems to have wormed his way into all of our hearts," he says to me later, disgusted with himself but resigned.

The black cat personifies The Annoying Niggle. It quiets down just as soon as you pay it some attention. It weasels its way into your lap. It makes you smile in spite of yourself. It has defined our week. Having heeded its cry, it is now impossible to imagine NOT having it around.

Is the cat convenient? No. Cats are NEVER convenient. I know. I've had several.

You can't control a cat. You are at its mercy.

The Annoying Niggle has defined my writing of late. My first book was initially about a thirteen-year old girl, a school bullying, and a horse. Then I got bit by The Annoying Niggle. There is no longer a horse in my story. Or a school bullying. Or a thirteen year old girl. The book I've just recently begun? After abandoning a great idea? This too is the result of The Annoying Niggle. And after a whole lot of sighing and hair-pulling, I couldn't be more pleased.

The Black Cat. The Annoying Niggle. Listen! Meow.


  1. Great post, especially since I'm the sucker who feeds all the neighborhood strays and the Annoying Niggle I've been feeling for days finally showed itself last night. Now I've got a total rewrite of about 15000 words ahead of me, and the cats should be arriving for breakfast any minute.

  2. Tha annoying niggle. I love it! Okay, well, I don't always love THE annoying niggle when it happens, but I do love the name. :)

    Great post, Alexa!

  3. Love this post. Cats are never convenient: ain't that the truth. We got adopted by a crazy neurotic cat when I was a teen, and since I've begun writing, there have been several not-quite-full-blown cats, more like kittens, that have wormed their ways into my books and wreaked havoc. The good kind, if there were such a thing as good havoc.

  4. Great post, Alexa! (You should do so more often).

    I’m deathly allergic to cats. So of course they love me. LOOOOVE me. I could be in a room containing a thousand people and one cat, and the little hairball would hone in on me.

    I need an Allegra just thinking about it.

    Like cats, I've had to learn to ignore the Annoying Niggle. Usually, toward the end of a first draft, I'll hear the call of a new, shiny, more exciting idea, pawing at the window of my creative mind. But there's work to be done, so the little niggle is best put aside for later. The funny thing is, the more you ignore it, the more it wants to be fed.

    Offering an occasional page of proverbial tuna helps. Just don't get caught. ;)

  5. the kitty can not be ignored!

  6. I am so happy to find a word for what it is I seem to do quite a bit. Who would have thought, Niggle would be my new favorite word.

  7. Is the annoying Niggle ever right about quitting a story that isn't working?
    Altho' I don't seem to be able to do that, so I guess the Niggle really turned into annoying Naggle some time ago.
    I just hope at some point it Stops being annoying!
    Does it?

  8. What a great story! I love it - do you know if this is copyrighted?

  9. Hi Alexa, These are voices from the past! We never discouraged you from writing and are so proud of you. Love your writing! I am visiting Jim & Diane this weekend and we thought of you and Googled you and, lo and behold, there you were. I also have a book Crossings: McCulllough's Coastal Bridges and I am up here on the North Coast placing the book in various venues. I have sold 1250 copies since last April 1 when it came out. What an adventure and I've given about 30 PowerPoint presentations from Rotary to state park campgrounds. I post weekly about my adventures on Check it out!
    Judy Fleagle/Jim & Diane Forst

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