On Fly Fishing and Writing
While home in Montana for a visit, I went fly fishing a few times. I love to fly fish. Being on the river brings me tremendous peace and even if I do not catch a fish, watching nature around me is reward enough. This year, as I was standing knee deep in rippling water, I realized how much fishing has taught me about writing.
1. I have learned that with both writing and fly fishing, a great amount of patience is required. As I fish, I know that I am fortunate to induce a fish to strike while I am out on the river. With writing, I have learned that I must set aside my work in progress, give it a few months to rest, before I return to it with fresh eyes so that I can edit it more clearly. Flaws in the story line or prose that were not evident before I set it aside become clear and the editing is easier. When I first started writing, I remember reading the advice to set aside my work for a period of time. That seemed impossible. I was eager to share my work, naively confident I did not need more editing. But with time comes patience and a better understanding of craft. My writing and work in progress have only improved due to my patience.
2. As with fly fishing, writing takes a lot of practice. Learning how to cast well and learning how to choose the correct fly takes time and a tremendous amount of repetition and practice. The more I write, the more I have learned the craft and the less editing I need to do. I look back on the heavy editing I did with my first book and I realize how far I have come. As with anything, the more I continue to write (or fish), the better I become.
3. Unless it is very early or late in the season, I believe that real men (and women) don’t wear waders. I don a thin pair of pants I do not care if I get wet, a pair of Keens or Teva’s and wade into the river, often up to mid thigh. For me, waders impede my ability to feel like I am a part of the environment. There is a sensual delight in wading in rushing river waters and getting wet. For me it is an integral part of fishing. I feel more in tune with nature and I feel like I have had an authentic experience. With writing, this means immersing myself in the experience. Taking a blacksmithing class and learning what it feels like to strike hard pieces of iron and forging them into something beautiful. Or taking a mining tour, going down a mining shaft, smelling the dank air, and envisioning the hours in near absolute darkness. I am the type of writer who needs hands-on-experience, who cannot surmise all that is needed to describe and envision my character’s lives by reading descriptions in a book. I need to immerse myself as much as possible in the experiences they had in 1900.
4. When I fly fish, I make some dreadful casts. Sometimes I laugh at myself because they are truly awful, other times I look around, hoping my brother or friend was not paying attention to see my cast. Not every cast can be pretty or go exactly where I want it to go. However, I know that I can recast and, even if it takes a few tries, I will eventually reach the riffle I want. In writing, not every word is perfect, especially in the first draft. I have learned that the first draft is to capture my ideas as my muse speaks to me. If I can not think of a word at that moment, I leave an X, an indication to myself that a perfect word exists, but I don’t know what it is at that time and I do not want to spend that moment searching for it. I did not like editing at first, but now I have grown to like it. I enjoy watching my story change and grow and become more polished.
5. As I stand in the river, watching my fly float down the current, I love observing nature. I love studying the new hatches of flies that come out, hoping that the fly I have tied on is similar to the ones I see flying around me. I love watching the osprey fly overhead or hearing the kingfisher give it’s rattling call before it swoops by. I become more observant. Writing has also made me more observant. I now notice the different types of architecture. When I enter rooms I look all around to see if there is period detailing such as a beautiful ceiling or an oak bar. I study people: how they walk, talk, and interact with each other. I am fascinated by the world around me. Fishing brings me peace, centers me, allows me to breathe deeply and makes the world outside of the river and canyon fade away. I forget my worries as the warm breeze soughs through the trees, the pine scented wind caressing me as it journeys down the canyon. Writing makes my soul sing, and as I sit immersed in a world I have created, I realize it is like fishing for me. My concerns and doubts disappear and I am at peace as though I were thigh deep in river water. I hope that you, too, have such joy in whatever makes your soul sing.