I have almost eaten the elephant.
Draft number two of the third Warpworld book is almost complete. It is a mammoth beast, spanning three worlds, with a plethora of perfectly paralleled plotlines. Say that last bit ten times fast, I dare you. Somehow I foolishly believed Josh and I would be finished this draft in March. Clearly, my optimism strangled my pragmatism when I wasn’t looking. Bad optimism!
Despite vastly over estimating my production capabilities, the editing has gone smoothly this time, with only a few minor episodes of metaphorical arm wrestling between me and my partner. We’ve both noticed this change and can only chalk it up to the thousands of hours of practice and our innate awesomeness.
But this noticeable improvement, along with some crazy positive comments I’ve received about the first and second books, has made me think on the craft of writing. Again.
Here’s the short version of my thoughts…
Great writers: born or made? Discuss.
And here’s the long version, which involves a lot of talk about fishing. (You have been warned.)…
Few people are born experts at anything. Unless “shitting one’s pants” can be classed as a skill, in which case all of us are born experts. No. Baby poopers and idiot savants aside, no matter what we may have a natural inclination for, we all must learn and hone the skills that will make us “great” at the thing we want to do. Some people learn quickly, others can spend years just trying to grasp the basics, but we can all improve.
But there is something else going on here. I’ve heard it said that to become a successful writer you need equal parts talent, luck, and self-discipline. But to be a “great” writer I think you need one more ingredient. I call it “is-ness”.
JUMP CUT TO THE DOCKS OF UCLUELET, BRITISH COLUMBIA, A SMALL FISHING VILLAGE ON THE EDGE OF VANCOUVER ISLAND. A TALL MAN, WHO MOVES AT THE SPEED OF A BUMBLEBEE ON COCAINE, IS OBSESSIVELY ORGANIZING AN ARRAY OF FISHING TACKLE.
Prez knows a little about a lot and a lot about a little. But there is one subject about which I will always trust his opinion one thousand percent: fishing.
On our latest Baja adventure, our friend Tim Thurston made a lovely speech thanking Prez for sharing all his fishing knowledge and passion with the group. He ended with a question: “Fred, why do you love to fish so much?”
Prez thought long and hard. Finally, he said, “I don’t know. I’ve always done it, it’s always been a part of my life, I never think about why.”
I know lots of people, myself included, who love fishing. But Prez? Prez IS fishing.
When you see Prez with a rod and reel, you see a person so completely in their element that they become one with the surroundings. Everything he does, everywhere he goes, every waking thought he has is connected to fishing. If you took a sample of Prez’s blood and put it under a microscope, you would see the cells are shaped like little fishing hooks.
Knowing that, you might think that Prez is the best fisher in the world and that he always comes home with fish. Nope. Not true.
What is true is that failure to catch a fish is not failure to Prez. If he goes out and gets skunked, he doesn’t throw his hands up in the air and quit. No, he has to know why he was skunked. Like a fishy Sherlock Holmes, he will consider the tides, the water temperature, the weather conditions, the currents, what kind of food was available in the water, how his lures presented to the fish, what phase the moon was in, what colour underwear he was wearing, etc, etc, and on and on. There is no failure; there is only a mystery to be solved: How can I do this better? What am I missing?
But it gets better.
Not only does Prez succeed at fishing but he wants others to succeed at it too. He wants people to love fishing and he wants them to be every bit as good at it as he is. There’s no jealousy or scarcity mentality in him. If you ask him how to catch a fish, he will teach you.
Um, actually, even if you don’t ask him how to catch a fish he will try to teach you.
But wait, it gets even betterer.
As much as Prez enjoys solving fishing mysteries himself, he’s not an ego machine. If the things he tries don’t work, he will happily learn from other fishers who are successful. His mind is never closed. If you can show him a way to do it better, he will listen.
Fishing, like writing, requires talent, luck, and self discipline for success. But success and greatness are not the same. To be “great” at fishing, you must “be” fishing. Fishing must be so deeply woven into you that you cannot separate yourself from it. It must transcend conscious thought. That’s the is-ness I speak of, the step beyond, the place where there is no failure or success…only more fishing.
There is no question in Prez’s mind that he will fish until he dies or at least as long as his beat up and battered ex-stuntman body will let him. Sometimes he makes money with his fishing, often he does not, it’s all the same to him.
To me, a great writer is not someone who spews award winning prose as easily and naturally as breathing. Nor is a great writer someone who is AMAZON #1 BESTSELLER! A great writer is someone who returns and returns to the page because they must, because it is who they are.
A greater writer is writing.
I love to watch my husband fish, to see that perfect synchronicity of mind and body. It reminds me of the importance of the moment.
My fingers moving on the keys. Keys which have been worn to a shiny patina from hours and hours of fingers on keys. Making words.