My new cat, Lou, is now officially an outdoor cat, which is to say that as long as the weather holds our house has become a place where he eats and sleeps, but little else. I miss having him around, but he’s got his business to attend to, which seems to be crouching beneath trees and staring at birds.
I’m sure Lou will catch a bird one of these days, but I honestly don’t think that’s the point. I understand about instincts and Darwin and survival and all the rest, and that’s fine, but I maintain that Lou is not hunting merely to scratch some ancient evolutionary itch. Lou won’t eat that bird if he catches it. He will drop it on my doorstep and go straight to his food dish.
Lou is like a lot of writers I know. The point of the hunting is not the catch but the hunting itself. If Lou catches something, wonderful, but if he hunts for the next three years and catches nothing, I doubt he will wake up one day and think, “Screw this. Bird-hunting is a chump’s game.” Hunting, like writing, attunes Lou to life. Or, to put it another way, it draws his attention to a keen focus. Or, to put it yet another way, he enjoys it.
We write because we enjoy it, or, like Lou, because it attunes us to life. To write well we must call our focus, we must listen, we must feel, we must think, and often all at once. If we produce something nice, great; if that nice something gets published, spectacular. But we don’t write to eat, though perhaps it will help us to do so. Whether we’re writing poetry, romance novels, literary fiction, or thrillers, we write to enter life fully. Writing is merely our avenue of choice.
And when the work is published, perhaps your readers will, as they enter your story, enter life as well, as they tune their focus to the words on the page. It is its own cycle of life, as natural, in a way, as a cat catching a bird.