Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fishing for Karma, by Lise McClendon

This is my second summer on the Madison River in Montana, one of America's blue ribbon trout streams. I'm a journeyman flyfisher with a lot to learn but I've gleaned a few insights while ankle-deep beyond the fact that rocks are slippery and fish are wily. Stick with me for a minute while I work through this extended metaphor between my old love, fiction writing, and this new one.

Writing and fishing have a few things in common but the most apt one is persistence. Stick-to-it-tiveness, if you will. To catch a fish you have to have a fly on the water. You don't catch anything worrying, untangling your line, or brooding on the banks. You have to keep casting. You have to get wet. Early on in my writing career (if I can call it a career) I realized that the people who succeeded were those who stuck with it the longest. They aren't always the most talented, they don't always have the slickest way with words or the most original ideas, but they have one thing none of us writers can live without -- a solid, rock-bottom belief in themselves. That is the basis of persistence. A vision of success, in some form. A belief that you can do it, you can write that novel, publish that story, that somebody somewhere will get you.

In fishing it's a trout that gets you. Tricked by your sly way with feathers and yarn, he looks up, and without a second thought, takes a lunge. In writing you first attract an agent or editor with your style, your imagination, your slant on the world. Then you hook the reader the same way. Suspension of disbelief is what you want. The reader is seduced into feeling this story is true, these people are real. You make them laugh real laughs, cry real tears. But you're telling lies. You just hope the reader can't tell.

The road to success in any form in writing can be grueling. It's important to be nice to yourself, celebrate the small wins. (In fishing we celebrate the fact that we hooked a fish even if he got off by calling it a "long distance release.") Even announcing to friends and family that you're writing a novel can be scary. I remember the first time I told someone outside my family. My voice shook. I was declaring myself, and I knew it. (Who did I think I was? A writer? The balls!) When the first agent asked to read the entire manuscript, I bought champagne. No matter that these small victories led to nothing in particular. They made me think differently about myself. And that led to success eventually.

I had been working hard on my first novel, then my second novel. I had gone to a writer's conference or two, made some writing friends, joined a local writers group. One day my husband asked me if I thought I'd ever be published. I suspect it was painful to him to keep reading those rejection letters. But I said, yes. I thought I would one day be published. Again, the declaration. I thought I had what it took. The statement, aloud, made me realize that I really could see it. I knew I was close. Those rejection letters didn't discourage me. They still said no, but they were personal, and had nice things in them too -- if you read close enough.

But of course, not everyone catches a fat rainbow on a salmon fly pattern, and not everyone gets published, little money, big money, or no money. It's harder than ever these days. I think I was lucky in the '90s when there was money, and optimism, in the business. I am bringing back that first book, The Bluejay Shaman, in trade paperback via print-on-demand technology, unheard of in 1994 when it was first published. Although it's harder to get published in this market, in some ways the author does have a little more control. Now for a small investment I have my first novel back in print, a feat none of my publishers cared a rat's ass about, but is important to me. I converted it to a kindle book too. I plan on continuing with the other books in that series, and will publish an original or two. It's a whole new world out there. If you asked me even three years ago if I would ever self-publish I would have laughed in your face.

But I believe. In me. I don't think I'm great or anything, I know better. Tons of people write better than I do. But nobody can do what I do so I have to do it myself. It's that simple. I have no choice. I also believe I will catch a brown trout over twenty inches on a fly too. One of the days.

There is a funny poem about fishermen that I have adapted here, because it applies to the fiction writer as well. My apologies to "Behold the Fisherman."

Behold the Fiction Writer.
She riseth early and disturbeth the whole household [with the grinding of the beans.] Mighty are her preparations [with outlines and note cards.]
She goeth forth [into the story] full of hope.
When the day is spent, she returneth, smelling of strong drink [and photocopies.]
And the truth is not in her.

Read more of Lise McClendon's lies at her website,
Or at her blogs at Red Room and with Katy Munger:

1 comment:

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

I've been thinking about the zen of fly fishing and writing. Sometimes if I try too hard, it doesn't work. Just like some other things. And it's the process, not just the catch.
Ack, I'd better get back to making dinner.