Monthly Archives: May 2010

Writing and Fishing: The Tortures of Favorite Hobbies

Who knew that a cancer patient and a surgeon could form such a beautiful friendship?  During five surgeries together, my husband and Dr. V found a common interest in fishing.  Granted, my husband is a hard-core bass tournament junkie and Dr. V is a recreational fish-for-fun guy–but guess who owns the two-story lake house?           

In a great show of kindness, Dr. V invited us to stay at his cabin.  It was an interesting peek into the personal life of a man with strong family values and great capacity to play.  I’m sure it’s a nice escape from his usual work of intense life-saving.   For me, it was a nice escape from life-living.  For my husband, an escape from working-to-stay-alive.    

A sunny deck overlooking Grand Lake—what better place for a writer to write?  So why is it that while I craved the writing get-away, I found myself looking for ways to “get away” from the actual writing?  A cushioned window seat, a wooden boat dock, and a ping pong table captured my attention more readily than the laptop waiting in the corner.  Nature walks and reading “writing how-to books” also lured me away from the actual task of writing.  

Task.  Funny how this favorite past time…this hobby…this talent…this urge to write…sometimes seems like a chore, nagging at me like dust on the ceiling fan.  “I really should get the ladder out and clean that off,” I think.  “I really ought to plug in the computer and finish that article.”  How did it come to this?  Perhaps the answer is best demonstrated by my husband.  

The bass fishing bug opened its big green mouth and sucked him in at age ten. Hook, line, and watermelon cracker spinner bait.  He saved every penny to buy a real fishing rod.  Not the Donald Duck cheapie from TG&Y, but a real Berkley rod.  

During camping trips, he woke his family up at 5:30 a.m. so he could get down to the river and start fishing at sunrise.  Mornings got ugly, so his Dad finally gave him permission to “sneak” out of the camper on his own.   

Early in our marriage, my husband hinted that he would sure like to get a bass boat.  I suggested that if he doubled his sales that year, we could probably swing it.  He tripled his business.  

Since then, his favorite pasttime has produced all kinds of new challenges.  Boat payments, fuel, gear and gadgets are costly.  Tournaments, too, are expensive, time-consuming, and out of town.  In response, he has used his sales skills to procure fishing sponsors.  Now, he gets much of his tackle, rods and outerwear (all emblazoned with logos) for free, in exchange for marketing products and working at fishing shows.  

He’s slept in cheap, dumpy hotels, in freezing cold tents, and spent scorching nights in the back of his vehicle—all to be able to participate in his hobby, which launches in the wee hours of the morning and often involves pounding wind, blistering sun or drizzling rain. 

Doesn’t sound like fun to me!  But, I love his passion.  No matter how lousy the weather conditions or cheap the reward prizes are, no matter how frustrated he gets—he can’t wait for the next time.  He reads every fishing magazine, studies every fishing show, and spends hours on the phone picking the brains of his fishing buddies.  He works harder at his hobby than most people work for a paycheck.  Just what does he get out of all this agonizing, frustrating, expensive labor?  A satisfaction akin to a cold drink of Dr. Pepper on a hot summer day.  An explosion of pleasure and a thirst for more.     

Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t resent a moment spent on this insatiable drive.  Those green, slimy fish fire his soul and give his personality spark.  Believe me, the year he was jobless, fearful of his illness and in too much physical pain to go fishing—those were the dark days of our marriage.  Lack of soul.  

Any magazine article I could write that would pay the boat payment was a step closer to making him smile again.  And every surgery that happened before fishing season was the one he rehabed from the quickest.  

Such is the life of a hard-core hobbyist; the one who has pursued enjoyment of an activity to the point of competitive perfectionism and bank account drainism.  But in his case, it improves his life anyway.  Spark and soul.  

So why is writing–my enjoyment of choice–sometimes a task?  Because it has become competitive.  It’s hard work, never finished, consumes my thought, requires constant improvement, constant observation, and is a game of challenge (but fortunately less expensive than fishing).  I’ve entered the hard-core ranks.  One book is not enough.  One article begets another.  

But writing also gives me spark.  I’m hooked.  Book, byline and contract.                     

When my husband starts gathering rods at 5:30 in the morning, I groggily think through plots and subplots.  After he shares a good story about a lake adventure, I file it away for a future book.  Each time he gets a new sponsor, I wonder how I could write an article about it.    

I’ll be his loudest cheerleader when he finally wins the big money, and he’ll be my best salesman when I make the New York Times bestseller list.  And if I ever lose the ability to type words on a page, I’ll rehab fast or find another way.  I’ve married into this hobby, and I’ve married a man who understands. 

I’ve finally torn myself away from ping pong and plugged in the laptop.  Ah, yes, the feel of the keyboard.  Hours passing.  Storytelling.  I’m having a blast writing.  This is so fun!  Why did I put it off?  

I’m thankful to Dr. V for providing us this weekend get-away–a weekend in which we both relax by means of intense participation in our respective pursuits of pleasure: fishing and writing.  

A working vacation.

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Filed under Inspiration for Writers, My Philosophy on Writing

Find Your Voice: Put Personality Into Your Writing

I once read that writers have no personality, because they save it all up for their book characters.  Okay, a bit unfair–but it’s true that I’d rather observe and interesting party than be the life of it. 

Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton: Book CoverLes Edgerton, author of Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing, argues on our behalf, that our own personality is what best sells our writing.  The premise of his book is that writers spend so much energy conforming to English rules and emulating certain styles, that they suck the life out of their own unique style.   The voice that we use in telling a friend a story or writing in our own diary—that’s our authentic voice, and we shouldn’t squelch it.   

To make his case, Egerton shares examples from both writing legends and students.  I gleaned these general points:

  1. 1.      Learn from the masters—but modernize

Over the century’s writing styles have changed, and you’d better conform.  Moby Dick may be your favorite book, but no one would publish it today.  What agent would wade through the lengthy descriptions of whaling or wait 400 pages to get to the plot?  Readers expect a faster pace, less description, and less-formal language. 

Edgerton takes a passage from Jane Eyre and analyzes all the old-fashioned rules that are no longer acceptable in writing–like colons, semicolons, ancient spellings and phrases, and oddly- structured sentences such as “Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early.”  Don’t do that.

  1. 2.      Break the writing rules 

Without insulting English teacher’s everywhere, Edgerton encourages writer’s to forget those nagging guidelines we practiced in high school.  Using “said” is better than “screeched,” “groaned” or “gasped.” 

Don’t use the wrong synonym just because you already used it two sentences ago.  If beguile sounds right and fits best, don’t replace it with the word agreeable, just because it was suggested in the thesaurus.  It’s not the right word.

Contemporary readers expect sentence fragments.  It’s how they talk.  And text.   

  1. 3.      Use movies as your transition guide

These days, transitions are increasingly excluded.  We’ve acclimated to jump cuts in movies.  We were in the Amazon jungle, now we’re in Washington D.C.  No plane ride expected.  A simple line break will suffice.

  1. Less backstory, please

 

Readers are pretty savvy.  No need to over-explain, because they’ll either read between the lines or they don’t care if they don’t know everything.  Don’t stop to tell who Miss Marple is.  If the context is a who-dun-it, they’ll “gather” it. 

In Edgerton’s example, he starts with two prison characters playing double sol and smoking tightrolls.  I’ve never used the word tightrolls, but “smoking” was a decent clue that it was something like a cigarette.  I don’t know double sol, either, but I don’t care enough to look up the game’s rules.  It’s not that important. And if it is, I’ll learn more about it during the course of book.     

Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory is cited.  “Like an iceberg, a good story only shows one-tenth of what lies below.”  When the writer does everything for the reader—furnishes everything, dumbs it down–then reading becomes a passive, boring activity.

Because the author of Finding Your Voice is a writing professor, he commonly sees four writing mistakes

  1. Sci-fi writers think the “story” should be mostly about technology.  (Boring—get to the characters already).
  2. English students force symbolism into the story.  (Most symbolism is subconsciously written in and then “found” by readers, not added on purpose).    
  3. Overdone beginnings.  (Allow readers’ intelligence to “get it”).
  4. Static descriptions.  (Deliver descriptions via action, not prose).

How to cure your writing weaknesses?

  1. Identify your biggest weakness
  2. Read authors who are strong in that area
  3. Write a paper on what you’ve learned. 

Think of it as taking a free college course.  Mental notes are forgotten quicker than when regurgitated–especially for people who learn by reading and like to write.  So, cite examples from authors who excel in areas where you do not.  Then give yourself an A+ on the paper!     

Overall, Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing, encouraged writers to be contemporary by breaking the rules.  And to realize that readers will be most interested in your own unique voice.  So let that great writer personality shine through!

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Filed under Resources for Writers