An English lady once walked through Ireland asking people this question. It’s a question that could be asked of anybody, never mind a writer.
Most ordinary people might find it easier to reply to, also, than a writer.
For example, the reply might be something like, “I’m going to college”. Or “I’m going to the shopping mall.” Or, “I’m going to meet a friend – or a lover.” Or, “I’m walking my dog. I’m taking a leak. I’m admiring the view….”
But none of these replies really answers the lady’s question. Perhaps because none is brave enough to answer it.
A grizzled farmer gave something closer to a real answer to the question. He replied, “I am wandering between the immensities.” The immensities he referred to were birth and death.
So, the real question then, is “What then do we think we are doing?”
I think this is a tricky, soul-wrenching question to ask anybody. My guess is most of us don’t have a clue as to what we’re really doing. I’m there with them. If you’re a writer of fiction, it’s a question your characters must either know, or at some stage, discover. What is it that they think they are doing?
Isn’t this the difference between reality and fiction. The characters in a book are likely more fortunate than most of us mere mortals, since they are part of a story that has a start and an ending. To think ahead, to believe that there is a purpose to our lives, requires a rare courage and an acknowledgement of the uncertainty and weakness of our being.