The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I’ll bet you know that the title of this post is a variation on lines from Robert Burns’s poem, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough.” And you also know that the title of John Steinbeck’s book, Of Mice and Men, came from the same poem. Go, you.

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Burns and Steinbeck

The lines from Burns’s poem actually go like this:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

I thought about those lines when I headed out to my car the other day, and saw the feral cat sitting on top of the grass/weed heap near my parking space. Why do I call him the feral cat? I live in a no pet building. This orange tabby—abandoned by someone undoubtedly—has adopted my building as his home base, though he lives outside. (And yes, I sometimes feed him.)


Somewhere in this photo is a cat if you look really hard. . . .

For a small rodent or a bird, it’s never a good sign when a cat sits so still and his eyes are open. I believe Feral Cat waited for a mouse or a bird to appear. After all, this is the same cat who months ago toyed with a mouse in my parking space just as I pulled up to park in it. The cat would allow the mouse to run a short distance, then would pounce on it. He did this over and over. Finally after a few tense minutes with me sitting there fuming, the cat grabbed the mouse and ran off. (For those of you who like mice, sorry. I was not about to get between that cat and that mouse.)

With that memory in mind, I cringed when I saw the predator hunched on the hill. By the time I scrambled to take a few photos, the mouse or whatever the cat waited for still hadn’t arrived. The best laid plans, as they say. So he settled down to stare at me and possibly roll his eyes at my clumsy attempts at photography (see above). I was a bit relieved. I didn’t relish watching him attack another a mouse.

Speaking of the best laid plans, what prompted this post, besides the fact that I still have yet to give away the Shadowfell series by Juliet Marillier (see interview; this is due to spam-bots who posted as fans and real fans who now already own the books), is the fact that I’m frustrated by my progress (or lack thereof) in my novel revision and, to a degree, in life. I had hoped to be finished with my revision, or at least around page 250 or 300. I haven’t even reached page 200! The best laid plans . . .

I’d also hoped I would at least be at a point in my life where I made the kind of dough (money for those who aren’t familiar with the colloquial term dough) that allowed me to book a trip to Rome for research and not blink an eye at the expense. Um, nope. Not even close. The best laid plans . . .


I wasn’t one of those kids who had a plan for her life along the lines of, “When I grow up, I wanna be a supermodel, a CEO, an astronaut, and a pirate.” I was too busy breaking things at home, writing stories, and daydreaming. See? I’m the ultimate pantser, even in life. Having a plan would be like outlining. After my days as an undergraduate, I also didn’t have a ready-made plan for my life other than “get a job.” It’s interesting how “get a job” later turned into “keep a job” in a steadily tightening economy. Soon, the plan to “get a job” returned when “keep a job” wasn’t exactly feasible. The best laid plans . . .

Often plans have to make way for new plans. (Like my plan for having this post up on Thursday. It didn’t happen obviously.) The word flexible comes to mind—the need to be flexible in this time of plans made and plans unmade.


Somehow, flexibility seemed easier when I was eight years old, and my only complaint was that my parents wouldn’t take my brothers and me to McDonald’s (always my plan). Instead of being flexible—rolling with life’s changes, life’s disappointments, life’s that-cat-is-in-my-parking-space again—I feel like a pretzel, instead of someone gracefully bending back like the woman above. But I keep trying, keep bending, keep making those plans that might have to be unmade.


At least I’m thankful for one thing: I’m not a mouse hiding in that grass heap with a cat sitting on top waiting for me to make a move.


Have your best laid plans ever been overturned? How did you stay flexible?

Mouse and Robert Burns painting from Wikipedia. Book cover from Goodreads. Yoga photo from Pretzel from Colosseum from photo from

28 thoughts on “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

  1. My wife is scared of cats. In fact she’s not very good with creatures that move, namely all of them. She once was chased around a garden by a friend’s rabbit, much to everybody’s amusement. Another time she was forced out of a pet shop by a chinchilla. Just what a person with such fears was doing in a pet shop we never established. I may post on it 🙂

    • You have to write that post, Andy!!! Though your wife might not forgive you. So get her permission first! 😀 (I’m picturing her chased by a rabbit. My younger brother was chased by our grandmother’s rooster in her yard. We laughed about that for years.)

  2. What do you you do, when life doesn’t do what you want it to? Carry on regardless? Panic? (Douglas says “Don’t panic.” and I’m with him on that one.) Doubt? Fret? Educate? Improve? Determine?
    It might be a little snigger or a big ‘crazy’ mad scientist guffaw. But whatever. Just laugh and carry on doing whatever you set your heart on. And remember – there are thousands of other ‘nutters’ like you, out there, doing the same. You are never alone in the writing asylum.

    • “Don’t panic and carry a towel” also is my motto, though I’ve run out of towels; I need to do laundry. But I can laugh and carry on at least.

  3. I get a lot of anxiety over making plans.

    Scratch that. I love making plans. It’s committing to them publicly that makes my stomach clench and my heart race. This is why I haven’t posted my ROW80 goals for this round (huge), why I haven’t set up a Facebook author page, haven’t added a job to my personal FB info. I’m a perfectionist, and the thought of my plans not working out as I planned (and everyone knowing that things have gone wrong) horrifies me.

    I’m working on it. Like you said, we have to strive to be flexible, roll with the punches, dust ourselves off and keep going, and understand that roadblocks and detours do not equal failure.

    I’m sorry your revisions are giving you so much trouble. I was just thinking this morning that anyone who thinks inspiration is the hardest thing about writing a book* has never actually written one. Revisions and edits can be fun, but they’re HARD!

    *I am related to these people.

    • Revisions and edits are difficult. I wish I were the kind of writer who could dash off a book in a month and a revision in the next month. Unfortunately, I am not that person.

      You’ll get around to setting up that author page. (I don’t have one on Facebook. I’ll get to it eventually.) In the meantime, rest up, get your stories written (you have a lot of good stories), and everything else will sort itself out.

  4. I spied the cat immediately…he’s definitely on the hunt.
    I’d like to say I’m flexible, Linda, but when I think about it, I’m probably not. I love my routine and structure and when something interrupts that routine, I can get pretty cranky. 🙂
    Happy Weekend!

    • You too, Jill.
      Yes, the Feral Cat had a suspiciously watchful look that didn’t bode well for any small creature in the vicinity.
      I like my routine, but life has a way of upending it.

  5. There’s a running gag that whenever I make plans with one of my friends, something goes horribly wrong. Subway car breaks down with him inside, sick toddler, and so many other delays that come out of nowhere. So, I think even if you’re a big planner, you need to have some flexibility. Besides, he more rigid the plan, the harder it is to recover from a bump.

    • Very true. And I also have a friend who, every time we make plans, something comes up. This time, she had to attend to her mother-in-law. Last time, the restaurant where we were to meet closed.

  6. Being able to go with the flow is one of the best strengths some people have, wish I could do it too 😀 I love planning, but life doesn’t always want to follow what I lay before me. Great post!

    • Thank you, Mishka. Yes, I find that life often throws curves. I might protest that, but then I find that chocolate and coffee help me field some of those curve balls. 🙂 I know. Enough of the baseball metaphors!

  7. Great post! Not only flexibility but balance is required for navigating between planning and adapting when the plans fall through. Depending on the plan, I sometimes feel like I’m falling apart right along with it. Other times, going with the flow or rolling with the punches is pretty easy. We learn and grow through it all though, right?

    • Thank you, Stephanie. Yes, we learn and grow, though I find I have to keep learning the same lessons over and over. Repetition, I guess, works for me. 🙂

  8. Send the cat over. My house is infested with mice.

    I know what you mean about plans. I’m an elaborate planner, with Plans B, C and D in the wings if A doesn’t work out. Then I commit to all of them at the same time and my life turns into a disorganized mess. In the end, I’m as much of a pantser as everyone else but I’ve spent time making up a bunch of stuff “just in case.”

    • I’m sure the Feral Cat would be willing to relocate, Lyn. What makes me nervous is the fact that the field beside the parking lot is infested with mice.
      I’ve tried to make plans. Sometimes they come to pass, other times they don’t.

  9. It’s strange, because now that I am older, I am a planner. When I was younger I had the devil-may-care attitude and sort of expected life would just take me wherever I was intended to be.

    • I want to be you when I grow up, Ionia! 😀 Sadly, you’d think that as I’ve gotten older, I would be more of a planner. Sadly that has not been the case.

  10. My best laid plans are usually best not laid…As much as I try to plan a predictable, comfortable day and not have to flex, it never works out. I guess that’s life. 🙂

  11. I used to plan my life down to the second. My list of life goals was categorized. I was the most inflexible person I knew. Life has taught me that no matter how much I plan, it does what it will. Somehow, I manage to get things done within those constraints, but I don’t stress about deadlines and to do lists and whatnot like I used to. Everything gets done. Eventually. And, I’m a lot happier that way.

    Good luck on your revision. I know you’ll finish it, and I can’t wait to read.

    • Thanks, Andra. I was impressed at your plan for your Natchez Trace walk! That was awesome!
      And thank you. I’m chipping away at it!

  12. Thank you for informing me of the Robert Burns poem, I’d only known the reference to the Steinbeck book. (And thank you for not shaming those of us who didn’t know). 🙂

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