When I was younger, my dad used to take me fishing from time to time. I’d get all excited, and we’d pack up the fishing poles and the tackle and head out to the lake. But when we got there it was disappointment city.
We learned to hate the phrase “fifteen minutes ago.” As in, “Fifteen minutes ago six hundred fish just grew legs and started crawling ashore with the words “Eat Me” printed out in their scales. You just missed it.”
I’m sure we caught some fish in our lives, but it was never anything spectacular. Dad christened himself “the unluckiest fisherman alive” and became resigned to the fate of always being just fifteen minutes behind the excitement.
But looking back on it, I’m not sure he wasn’t making the same mistake I see some writers making. He saw the success of others, and when he couldn’t replicate that success for himself he told himself he just wasn’t as lucky as all those other people. And while it’s true that in fishing (and writing) there is a fair amount of luck involved, we’re often far too eager to place the blame for our failure on luck or fate.
We convince ourselves that other people are just born writers, that they have some mystical quality about them that we don’t have. We tell ourselves, “I could never write like that,” and lo and behold our prediction comes true.
But the truth is that writing is a lot like catching fish. And here’s how we can do better in both areas.
1. Fish Hungry
Whenever me and my dad went fishing we always took some kind of food along with us. We always told ourselves that if we caught a fish we would fry it up and eat it, but just in case we had our baloney sandwiches back in the truck.
And we always ended up eating those baloney sandwiches. We didn’t catch fish because we didn’t have to catch fish.
Writing is the same way. For most of us it’s just a hobby, an amusement. We look up at professional writers and we think, “Now they’ve got something I could never have.”
And in a sense that do have something we don’t have. It’s called desperation.
There is a reason Chuck Wendig is a better writer than I am. It’s because he has to be. His writing is what puts food on his table and ensures that his soon-to-be-born son will be provided for. If he has an off day, he might not get paid.
I’m not suggesting that we should all quite our jobs and become freelancers, but I am saying that as long as we treat our writing like a hobby instead of a job we will continue writing like hobbyists.
2. Fish Often
You know who catches fish? It’s not the guy with best tackle or the best boat. It’s not the guy who reads all the books about fishing and studies the mating habits of speckled trout. The guy who catches the most fish is the one who has his line in the water more than anyone else.
Writing is the same. If you want to be a great writer, you have to write. A lot. If you’re writing hit and miss, sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike, you’ll never make anything of yourself as a writer. Real writers write. As in every day.
Yes, time can be hard to come by. I understand that. Too bad. Do it anyway.
If I sound like I’m being harsh it’s because I’m partly talking to myself here too. I need this advice as much as any of you. Every day I find myself struggling for time, trying to resist the temptation of some amusement or other so that I can focus on my writing. Sometimes I succeed. But often I fail.
But I keep trying. Because I’m not satisfied with where I am as a writer. An neither should you be.
None of us is so good that we couldn’t get better.
Addendum: For those of you who requested that I write the “man pukes up finger he doesn’t remember eating” story from yesterday’s post, your voices have been heard! I’ve got the first bit of it done, and I hope to finish it and post it sometime later in the week. So keep your eyes peeled. (Actually you don’t have to keep them peeled. I eat them with the skin on all the time and so far, no adverse affects.)
Hell, I wouldn’t say I’m a better writer. I’ve just been doing it longer, which ultimately I think proves your point — just keep going like that goddamn battery bunny.
Fish often, indeed.
Thanks for the kind words, of course.
And you’re right. There’s no substitute for practice, practice, practice.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he said that for someone to be truly proficient at something they must do it for at least 10,000 hours of their lives. If that’s true I’ve still got a long way to go.
I’ve read that book. I think I highlighted that 10,000 hour rule. 🙂
This is very inspiring. Thanks, Albert. Ever since I found your blog, I have begun writing something everyday. I don’t wait for a burst of inspiration any more. There was this one fear, that if I write just for the sake of it, without anything to say, the quality of my writing may suffer. But I have now realised, that I haven’t even tried, so I am not sure. It may be true. It may be not. I’ve got to write to find out.
It’s fantastic that you’ve started writing more regularly. I’m super glad to hear I could encourage you. This is by far the best kind of comment I can get.
And I find that writing regularly means that I have something to say more often. The more stories I write, the more story ideas I have.
Keep working and keep writing. It’s a long road to walk, but the view is gorgeous.
Yeah! Severed fingers!
You and Chuck Wendig are now officially in a contest to see which one is a better fisherman — trawling for grossed out readers. The peeled eyeballs is something he could come up with, but you got there first. Congratulations. I think.
I’m wasn’t trying to be gross with the eyeball thing. I just like literal humor. Besides I think the Wendigo could outgross me any day he wanted to, so don’t but me in competition with him. I’d get plastered.
Oh and great news about the story. Can’t wait. 🙂
i don’t like fishing (most vegetarians don’t), but i like how you employed it here as a metaphor. it’s so important to write every day. upon the recommendation of a writer friend, i just read ‘writing down the bones’ by natalie goldberg. she is an advocate of daily journaling (not your typical ‘dear diary’ type of deal) and i swear her advice has changed my life! in terms of writing, at least. that’s another thing us writers must do – read, read and read some more…
“Write Down the Bones” eh? I’ll have to add that one to my “to read” list.
And speaking of reading, you’re absolutely right. Reading is vital. I must confess I haven’t been doing enough of it lately myself.
Fish hungry: Truth in advertising. The more you have to write, the more you will write. I think these two feed into one another. Great thoughts.
I’ve never tried fishing but I used to believe I sucked at hula hoop before I turned eight so I never even want to touch it. But then, I was forced to join the hula hoop contest and (surprise!) we lost. Then, I’ve got the desire to win on the next competition so I bought one. I practiced everyday for months. Suffice it to say that I’m good at it now. When someone asked me how many I could do, I usually say an hour or two.
So, the point of my story is that it’s not so that we’re bad at writing. It’s just that we don’t practice it often enough.
I love to write. I love to fish. And I love that you used fishing as a metaphor for writing every day.
Now, I have to go fish and feed the lake!
P.S. I read Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones years ago. Another book I recommend is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Both talk about writing practice and feeding the muse
I’ve heard of Bird by Bird. (That sentence is kinda fun.)
Unfortunately I’m stretched a little thin financially these days, so I haven’t been able to feed my reading habit like I’d like to.
Hope you have luck with your writing. And the fish!
You touched on many points that writer, especially those starting out, face often – finding time to write, taking it seriously, and being dedicated.
It can indeed be difficult, and many of us as writers, do have another main mean of employment. This means we are not as dedicated to writing as we should be if we expect to make an income out of writing.
Your words are quite strong and encouraging. It’s great to hear about the struggles of other writers because you know you’re not alone. BUt it’s even greater hearing encouragement to carry on in the writing world. This is why I share my tips and experiences in writing also.
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