I am on the road again (don’t let that tune get into your head). Hope this bloody thing posts properly. WARNING: the following is not for the vegans among us … or the squeamish … unless you look at becoming and remaining published as a life and death event, one that is vital to your own well being and sense of joy. Then you might want to read on anyway.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Joy and fish. I used to fish. I liked going after big-mouth bass best, but catfish have a certain allure, especially as a metaphor to joy and writing. Joy is difficult for a commercial writer to find and hold onto, and is dependant on a *lot* of factors; it’s often reminiscent of all the effort that goes into catching one’s own food and preparing it for eating. If it’s all joy, there is little value in the process. Nothing is worthwhile, nothing is of value, unless there is risk and the probability of pain mixed in.
In fishing, one needs the proper tools: The know-hows of the how-tos of catching fish, as my PawPaw Prater used to say. Fishing license. Two weights of line (I like 50 lb and 25 lb.), weights (enough to hold the lines in the water), bobbing corks, hooks, matches, bait, a cooler, lunch and water/cola/beer to drink (for the fisherman, not the fish), bait, a 5 gal. bucket to sit on or store stuff in, a nice big fishing net or two, a gaff if you think you might hook something bigger (one can dream!), a fish-stringer for after you catch the fish, a hat, sunscreen, bug repellent, sunglasses, all for personal protection, a glove for the fish (to handle the fish, not for the fish to wear, which would be just plain silly) supplies for bathroom breaks, and I’m sure I’ve left out something. As a fisherman you find your spot and fish. You can lie back on the bank and dream great thoughts and enjoy the clouds puffing as stories are written in the sky. This is the joyous part. This is the pure creativity of writing…oh, wait. I was talking about fishing. Yeah. Fishing. Nobody is telling you how to fish, or what to fish for, or what bait to use, or what line or net. It’s just you and your worlds and your words.
In commercial writing, every stage correlates to fishing and each has its own needs and its own joy. For the pre-writing, the pre-publishing, and the commercial stages, the writer needs tools. The writer—you—need the necessary understanding of the English language, proper grammar, an ever-expanding toolbox of writing devices, and an instinct of when to break all the writing rules. And you’ll need an idea worthy to be a book or story and the guts and fortitude to go for it. You’ll need an electronic means of writing and sending manuscript files (few people accept hard copy these days), like a PC with Internet access. These are like the line and the net and the glove one needs for fishing. And you’ll need a shell like a turtle—the sunscreen and sunglasses and repellant of the writer’s life, so that rejections and reviews don’t wound you too much.
The pre-writing stages all correlate to the knowledge of how to catch a fish, the preparation of the line and the bait and hooks and the danger of a new and unknown world. And then follows the writing. Now, that is joy—overwhelming elation and ecstasy. It is all yours, everything is yours, under your control. It’s like lying under a sunny sky, your foot on the line, and watching the clouds puff by.
One day, you have a finished, polished manuscript, a query, a proposal, and a synopsis. The pre-published stage follows. Again, it is joyous, expectant, deeply hopeful.
In the search for catfish in a bayou (it’s different in a lake) one can choose to use a pole (single line method) or the trotline (multi-line method). I think the trotline method is best for catfishing and for finding an agent / editor. You string a trotline, a long, heavy-duty fishing line from which you depend several stringers made of less heavy-duty lines, with a weight about midway along each and a bobbing cork and on the end, a really tasty worm, or slice of tomato or whatever the fish are hitting on, on the hook. Then you tie off the trotline on one side of the bayou and cross to the other (avoiding alligators and water moccasins, all the while getting thoroughly wet and muddy) and you tie off the line there, allowing the depending lines to dangle into the water.
The same analogy can be used for a writer who is trolling for agent and editor attention, queries and manuscripts in the mail or on the Internet ether, things out there like bait. That is joy too. Until something strikes the line. Then everything changes. The joy of writing (fishing), the fun you had being in control of your environment, all that is left on the bank and you have to go to work.
Catfish aren’t pretty creatures, nor are the nuts and bolts of fulfilling a contract. Holding on to a catfish once it’s caught can be painful, all slimy skin and spines and a body of solid muscle, writhing and fighting and totally out of your control. Kinda like a publishing deal, where you are building relationships with an agent and editor and learning how this company does business. (BTW, you have relearn large parts of this every time you change houses… Oy.)
Once it’s hooked, you have to net it and remove the bait and hook and get the fish into the bucket with enough water to keep it alive, or you can string it through the fish-stringer and put it in the bayou to keep alive. Handling the fish (the contracts, the changes, the relationships you need to build) is often dangerous and painful. To help it along, you should have a plan for how you will bring in the fish (net, gaff, stringer) and fulfill the contract and how you will spend the little (or huge) amount of money you will earn for your fish. Uh—manuscript. How you will promote it (cook it up and offer it to the world). See? My analogy and metaphor is all tangled up now, like a fisherman and her trotline.
Catfish are tasty eating. Worth the pain of being stuck with spines, and getting slimed and bloody. The joys are there. But so is the pain of rejection and rewrites and getting orphaned or dumped or receiving cruel reviews. Mostly, you just have to love fishing. Love it a lot.