Letter to the Fiction Writer

Thud!

“Ow…” My forehead is regretting my decision to slam it into the desk, but I don’t particularly care. The monitor in front of me continues to glow, heedless of my disgust, displaying one blank word document with a blinking line at the very top. It’s waiting for me to do something. But what?

“I don’t know,” I groan aloud. The pieces of some vague plot are scattered in my brain, but they simply refuse to come together for long enough to get a good look at it. I can think of nothing to make those pieces sound interesting or compelling. Are they interesting or compelling? Am I fooling myself just by sitting here? Can I really write fiction?

I turn my head a little in an attempt to avoid a bruise in the middle of my forehead, and I happen to glance at the door to my room, which has been shut to the world for hours. I blink when I notice something white on the floor; a second glance confirms that I have never seen this object before. It’s a slip of paper, folded in half.

I rise from my chair and stoop to pick up the paper, half expecting to recognize the content as I unfold it, but no such luck awaits me. Someone has written in Sharpie, in handwriting I am unfamiliar with, “Inspiration awaits you out of doors.”

I stare at the words for a few seconds, turn the paper over a couple of times, and stand up again. Any normal person would wonder who had written the note, or what such cryptic words could be referring to. Those thoughts briefly flit through my head, but ultimately, the one I debate over is the one I ask out loud; “Where outside?”

Willing to suffer whatever consequences could await depending on this mystery writer’s intentions, I open the bedroom door for the first time all day, pass a glance at my fish tank on the kitchen counter as I strut through the house, and throw open the front door, squinting into the sun’s harsh, midday glare. All I can do is look at the ground for a few seconds. On the doorstep, just as if my guest predicted my actions, there is another piece of paper, this one sporting an arrow that points down the porch stairs. I spy another one on the tree, pointing left. Without stopping, I follow the arrows, only vaguely aware that I am being lured into the woods like some character in a horror movie. More arrows appear on trees as I go deeper and deeper into the woods. My only companions are the birds and squirrels I’m scaring away as I power through the brush.

Finally, the arrows stop. I wander helplessly for a moment before I notice a clearing. When I shove aside the last bush, I gasp: the ground is covered in wildflowers of every color imaginable, and the only thing to break the sea of sweet-smelling pops of color is the most inviting tree I’ve ever seen. It’s big and strong, its branches are thick with leaves, and there’s an alcove naturally set into the base of the trunk. Careful to shuffle through the flowers, I gingerly approach the tree to find a red spiral-bound notebook resting in the alcove. I weigh the stack of pages in my hand for a moment before daring to open it. There, in the same handwriting as that first note, is a letter.

Dear Fiction Writer,

Hello, you brave soul!

So you have dreams of becoming the next great American novelist. Or maybe you want to see your short story published in a magazine. Or maybe you just want to write down that plot bunny that’s been hopping around in your head for who-knows-how-long. Congratulations on breaking the bubble of academia and going for creative writing! You have chosen one of the most thrilling and most challenging modes of writing that exist.

I hope my little surprise helps you feel less like writing is a dull, thankless task. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of locale to get the creative juices flowing. Everybody’s “writing spot” is a little different, so I hope you like mine.

I took you on this adventure to make you feel an adventure. The emotions and physical sensations you just felt—those are what make fiction come alive. The crunching of dead leaves, the scampering of the squirrels, and the sensation of your heart pounding all come together to create one story—the story of how you recklessly followed a mysterious trail into the woods. The big story is the main focus, but the details make it worth reading.

Write what you want to read. I promise, there is someone out there who will read it. Maybe you’ll become famous in your lifetime, like C. S. Lewis. Maybe you’ll become famous later, like Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never will, and you think that’s just fine. Be happy in any case, because you’re going to write for yourself—no one else.

Before you give up, try it my way. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding beyond measure.

Happy writing!

I take a deep breath; the scent of hundreds of flowers fills my nose. I rip the pen out of the spiral and, for the first time, I write without boundaries.

Written by Catherine

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The Cat

The cat’s long, black tail swings down from the branch, swaying in the breeze. As a kitten, she was taught to never give away her position when hidden in a tree, but things are better now. She can relax around these humans as long as she is out of their reach. She’s learned from experience that staying away from the humans is, in general, a good idea, but they won’t hurt her if they see her. Not the way they once did. The cat hasn’t been around for long enough to remember a time when the humans, especially the male variants, took a liking to making cats’ lives miserable, and she’s glad that they have learned their lesson.

From her perch, she watches silently as the sun rises and the humans come back to life. Slowly, one by one, they begin to emerge from their homes, yawning and bleary-eyed. Most are laden with cloth bags filled with bricks (or so she thinks, based on the way some of the humans are bent under their weights). As the sun gets higher, more and more humans appear, progressively looking and sounding more awake. Some of them are practically bouncing as they walk; others shout at their friends as they somehow use their inferior vision to spot a member of their species across the street. Groups of them pass by the cat’s tree, all talking loudly. Some are laughing, even shoving each other around playfully, like little kittens playing in the street. The cat simply doesn’t understand such immaturity, but she reminds herself that they are humans, after all, and they can’t be expected to carry the same dignity as cats.

Some of the groups are more solemn, but the cat doesn’t like those groups, either. Three females walk past, one with water running down her face (the cat has never understood the point of this human ability); “She lied to me!” the wet one warbles, only for the humans to awkwardly assure her that “everything will be okay.”

Humph, the cat scoffs to herself. Weak humans. If I mewled like a kitten every time a cat lied to me, I’d never eat.

The cat moves to an adjoining branch to get a different viewing angle on the next group, another set of females. Their faces are all red; the cat wishes in their stead that they could grow fur to cover that up. “Who does he think he is?!” one of them screeches, piercing the cat’s sensitive ears. “Sometimes I just want to smack him. What a jerk!”

Once again, the cat rolls her yellow eyes in annoyance. Who cares what one human thinks of another? Focus on making yourself less annoying, and maybe you won’t have to complain so loudly.

Shortly after, a group of males walks by, shoving each other and laughing so that the cat’s ears pin themselves to her head. Nevertheless, her impeccable hearing still deciphers their speech; “Bro, you need a break. Let’s play Smash this weekend, you can catch up later.”

Skipping work to play games? How immature. How do these humans expect to survive by playing games like kittens all day? The cat flicks her tail in annoyance. As soon as the humans are all gone, she plans to descend the tree and find a quieter spot to brood.

The next face that comes along is one the cat immediately recognizes. This female leaves food out almost every day next to her home just for the stray cats in the area, and she never yells, but merely whispers on the off chance that the cat lets her guard down near her. Unlike the other humans, she is alone, and she holds her phone up to her ear, speaking into it; “I don’t know what to tell you, girl. God’s in control, so just don’t freak out. He’s in control and he loves you, just don’t forget that, okay…?”

The cat relaxes as the human strolls away. At least one of them is bearable.

The stream of humans has ended at last, and the cat gracefully leaps from her perch and slinks away, head and tail high.

Written by Catherine

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cat_on_the_tree_3.jpg