Writers must be good hunters

Sahara hunting sceneAn essay over at The New York Times illustrates the similarities between writing and hunting as professions.

“While many would-be writers are intimidated by the unlikelihood of making a living through selling words, I’d already been immunized by the decade I’d spent trying to make a living selling furs,” writes Steven Rinella.

He explains that both can lead to below-poverty-level lifestyles that are also alienating.

“Writers are motivated by a sense of exclusivity, by their conviction that they possess unique knowledge and insight,” he writes. “As I followed the path of the hunter, my worldview had become colored by ever-present conflict: the conflict between predator and prey, the conflict of practicing an ancient discipline while living an otherwise modern life, the even more perplexing conflict between the hunter’s love for his quarry and his desire to kill it.”

Rinella names other shared traits, too, such as curiosity. “Exploring a fresh idea, I found, could be as seductive as exploring a fresh landscape. And the outcome was sometimes even more satisfying.”

Patience is also important. I found this part of the article particularly poignant and affecting:

At its worst, when it’s a seemingly endless string of hours spent waiting for a sensible passage to appear across a computer screen, I recall the silent, lonely, and uncomfortable days that I’ve endured in the woods. I imagine that the idea I’m trying to put into words is an elk that’s out of sight but, perhaps, slowly headed my way. In both disciplines, there are things I can do to help bring about the result I want: In the case of hunting, it’s important to maintain silence; in the case of writing, to maintain an incessant clacking of keystrokes. Ultimately, I found that success for each often came down to my ability to endure discomfort and boredom long enough for the desired result to happen along, magically, on its own.

And when those moments came, I discovered that the writer and the hunter both need the reflexes and bravery to go in for the kill.

Korean huntingI agree with Rinella and admire the way he sees a connection between his passions. That’s a perspective all of us, as writers, should strive for: how to put what we love into words and bridge every part of our lives with the beauty and meaning of writing.

To the piece, I would add that a writer, as a hunter, must use every functioning part and cut the excess. Nothing must go to waste; only the sentences and words that serve a purpose matter. “Kill your darlings” is the article’s headline.

A good writer must learn the behavior of her writing and tracks its every movement and disruption. Only then, by carefully watching and listening to what it’s trying to tell you, can you learn how to improve.

We’re constantly battling against ourselves, striving to tame the beast — that wild and primal energy that we sculpt into form. It takes assiduity and care. At the same time we must conquer this animal that we hunt; ever in awe and pursuit of language, we must respect it. The way it speaks to us can teach us how to speak through it.

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