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.)