Baseball, Fishing, and Writing

Baseball, Fishing, and Writing

I am some where in the middle of middle age, and there are still many things I have never done. Until recently, one was to attend a major league baseball game. But that changed that last month, when I saw the Pittsburgh Pirates break a losing streak in a 5-2 win over the As. I had so much fun that evening at PNC Park, looking down on home plate and up at the Pittsburgh skyline, surrounded by families and food, that I’m now eager to attend my next game and could become a real baseball fan.

Since that time I have moved from Pittsburgh to Wisconsin, and live right on Lake Michigan. From my windows, I can see the open lake and the harbor. We have been here almost two weeks now, settled enough so that my husband went out and bought fishing poles and tackle and a net big enough to catch Moby Dick (yes, he has always been an optimist). He has gone out a few times early in the morning. The first few times he came back, I would ask if he had caught anything. I have learned now not to ask; that if he had, I would hear him shout from the dock, a block and half away from here.

Last night he took me out with him and I cast off for the first time in my life. He explained to me what to do– having learned it himself five days ago from the guy at the rigging store where he bought his equipment. “Hold down this thingee. Pull the rod back. Throw it out. Then release the thingee. Keep the rod low, and reel it back in slowly, occasionally jerking the line ever so slightly. That’s how the fish swim, in jerky motions.”

Sounds easy enough to me. So, I did it, and it was easy. And I did it again. And again. Over and over again. I watched other people on the dock doing it, over and over again, and I didn’t see anyone catch anything. However, they were hopeful, and they were out there doing what they wanted to be doing at that exact moment. Nothing wrong with that.

After about an hour, it was almost dark, so we packed up our stuff and started to head for home. As I turned around, I saw an older man who had been standing about fifty feet away from us, take his net and swoop it down into the water.

“Look, he’s got something,” I told my husband. “Let’s go over and see what he’s caught.”

Several other people had gathered around as he lifted a huge brown fish out of the water. The old guy was kind of nonchalant about his catch, but everyone else was impressed, telling him “Wow,” and “Good for you,” and “Way ta go, buddy.” They walked away with incentive to come back tomorrow, and with renewed hope that the big one with their name on it was out there, waiting for them.

As I walked home, I couldn’t help but think about fishing and some similarities to my recent exploration into creative writing. First, until well into my fifties, I did neither. I have always been a technical writer, but about two years ago I tried my hand at fiction and pardon the pun, I was hooked. My writing comes in jerky motions, sometimes smooth and steady and other times in little spurts, punctuated by immobility. I’ve thrown a few things out to see anyone is interested in my work, but so far, not even a nibble.

Like the fisherman who still hasn’t caught anything, I haven’t published anything in this genre—yet. But I keep trying and I understand that trying is part of the process, just like each of those folks at the end of their rods. It’s also true that like those guys at the dock, right now I am doing what I want to be doing. I may never catch the big one, but I like being here. At this point, I would be happy with a small catch. Fish, I mean, as well as seeing a short story or poem of mine in print. Even a little piece, just to keep me going.

However, I am encouraged when I meet other new writers who are successful, and I appreciate talents who reel in the big fish and get their rewards. Like my husband, I too, am optimistic, and I really believe that there is a fish out there waiting for me, and that a story of mine will be printed, and that it is never too late to become a fan of our national pastime. I just can’t remember if it’s baseball or fishing.

Susan Remson lives in Kenosha, where she write about the environment, politics, and culture of the Great Lakes at Great Lakes Views..

Writing Lesson

By Barbara G. Francisco

I know I can write. In school days, my star shone brighter than the others when the gauge was writing compositions and winning essay contests. But ten years after college, I am nowhere near the status that famous writers enjoy.

More than a skill, writing is an art. It is unlike the medical or legal profession where you earn the title by going through years of study and practice. Writing is unlike a smooth highway but rather a road always unpaved. I have learned much, and yet I have learned very little.

A few written pieces does not make one a writer. Even now, I cringe at the implications of calling myself a writer. It is a big responsibility. I hold on to only one thing—the passion I have for writing. There are no published works and bestseller books I could speak of; what I have so far are lessons learned in pursuing this art.

Discipline

I have in my hard disk the text document of fifteen (yes, 15!) different subjects all waiting to see completion. Three short stories have beginnings and endings but no connections in between. One biography awaits the interview notes and integration of a sociologist’s viewpoint. Still another needs research to substantiate its medical background. The rest are either in need of editing or further input. All need time.

If I have had the discipline to give it time, to write a line or two a day, perhaps, the oldest article which I started exactly six years ago would have been completed exactly six years ago.

You may tell me this is a case of entertaining the writer’s block and I shall plead guilty

“Thou art guilty of not giving your craft the attention it needs to grow.”

It does not exonerate you that you have a very busy schedule and that work gets in the way like when you’re really fired up to tackle a piece but then the phone rings and you have to speak to the person on the other line who happens to be your boss telling you to proceed to the conference room for an impromptu meeting. It does not exonerate you that you cannot add a few paragraphs to that take-home assignment because the dishes have to be done and the clothes need ironing. It does not exonerate you that the pages of your notes remain white because traffic takes up so much of your time and you have to hit the bed pronto to catch up on sleep or struggle getting up tomorrow again. It does not exonerate you that the piece stays untouched because, over the weekend, a friend comes over to visit or a TV special should not be missed

There will always be a thousand and one things that will demand your time and attention. If you let them.

All these, you see, are excuses. Bounce back. Return. Keep the goal in sight. Stay focused. Write!

Truth and Accuracy

Unless your genre is fiction, truth and accuracy matter most. You owe it to your readers to tell it as it is. Did your protagonist actually wear bell-bottom pants and elevator shoes or you just assumed he did because it was the dictates of fashion back then? Say “he must have” or “perhaps he did” if you have to, but do not claim words of certainty.

Even the subject of your piece could give the wrong information, or omit a vital detail. In one interview, my subject related the story of his cancer-stricken daughter. His spoken words implied that the daughter died in the hospital. Later on, I learned from the daughter-in-law that the daughter died at home, not in the hospital. What did I do? I deleted the dying part. There was no way I could let that pass.

Another example. I have a friend whose article about a movie star remains unfinished nearly a year after she interviewed the subject. All because a published article about the same movie star contradicts the data she was given. Nothing will make her finish the piece unless the contradiction is verified and settled.

You cannot possibly gain all information about your piece, especially if it is a broad subject, but be it a sense of duty to exhaust all available resources you can get. A well-researched piece is the foundation of a well-written piece.

Honing Your Craft

The road to writing is always unpaved. It is thus essential to keep alert against bumps and turns. Arm yourself with the necessary tools.

One book on writing tips strongly suggested owning important references. It did me proud to realize I have almost all of the tips’ list of essentials: a dictionary (mine is a 2-volume encyclopedia edition), a style and usage book, a book of quotations, a thesaurus, and of course, the Bible. The encyclopedia and the atlas are always available in public libraries. And yes, thank God for the Internet!

So, by acquiring these books over the years, I’m on the right track after all. If you’re serious about writing, five or ten years from now, you’d likewise find yourself proudly possessing these books.

Occasionally attending writing classes or workshops is another. This is more expensive but necessary. Had I not join a creative writing class two Christmases ago, I wouldn’t be as intent as I am now to finish this piece. From that short 4-day course, I gained much. I met other writing enthusiasts and we bonded together. There are no better people to understand your writing and understand the thoughts and emotions that grip your writing than writers themselves.

We do critique sessions, unmindful of the time. Once, I looked at my watch to find it was already twelve midnight and we were still in the heat of discussion about the right word to use in completing the sentence about the grave digger placing the marker to seal a tomb. Should it be placed or shoved or pushed?

Everyone gets the chance to attack everyone’s piece. “What’s your point? You sound ambivalent? Think of your readers. If you exclude this viewpoint, it will appear as self-serving? It’s just your ego getting in the way” (Ouch!). ” Hair has no plural word, right?” ” Yes, hairs is incorrect.” (Ouch again!) “I think this paragraph should precede the last sentence on page 4.”

Over cups of coffee or tea, bottles of mineral water and glasses of ice-cold coke with pizza or spaghetti or cookies or corn chips on the side, we let each other grow. “So, how was your interview?” ‘Your third draft is so much improved.” “Have you read Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg?” “Look, I just bought a copy of Philip Gerard’s Creative Non-Fiction.” “I’ll send you my comments through e-mail.”

One big warning though: if you decide to organize or join a critique group, be sure you can take criticism (and I mean criticism!), and still face up to the challenge. Our group has had its share of valedictory speeches (read “quitting”) not to mention the cancelled meetings and unmet deadlines and lazy bouts.

The road to writing is always unpaved and you can never say when the end is in sight. Even this piece can grow to as long as 15 pages or more. There is much to be said.

So, what happens to the 15 unfinished pieces in my hard disk? I’m working on them. Sometimes, time is necessary to gain more lessons, get extra insights, and grow in understanding. Then, when you get back to writing, your writing will have the necessary substance, the desired depth, the intended meaning.

Remember, the road to writing is always unpaved.

You can reach Barbra at fossil AT i-next.net.

So, You Want to be a Writer?

By Babs Halton

It was a winter’s evening. I lay sprawled on the sheepskin rug in front of a log fire.

“I want to be a writer,” I said.

My husband sat in his leather armchair, pen poised over a crossword. “Do you know another word for ‘spiny anteater’?”

Our youngest piped up. “I know, Daddy. It’s Echinacea,” she replied, her eyes never leaving the television. Her sister looked up from the book she was reading and laughed.

“That’s an herb—it’s not an anteater.”

“Well, I know it’s something like that and I know it’s not enchilada ‘cos that’s a real hot food,” she said smugly.

“It’s an echidna,” I replied. “Native to Oz; belongs to the porcupine family.”

“Wow! How did you know that?” Eyes still glued to the television.

“Because I did last week’s crossword and I looked it up.”

My voice raised an octave. “Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, I want to be a writer.”

“Oh! That’s interesting,” he said.

“Don’t humor me,” I snapped. “You don’t think I’m serious, do you?”

Now I had his attention. “Why, of course, I know you’re serious, but . . . ”

“But what?”

“Well, it’s not like writing a letter, you know. It takes determination, stamina, and a thick skin because you’ll have enough rejections to paper a very large room.”

“So you’re saying my work will be rejected.” My voice sounded like cracked ice.

“Of course, bound to be—it happens to all writers.” He warmed to the subject. “Do you know how many books Louis L’Amour had rejected before he had an acceptance?”

“I don’t want to write cowboy stories,” I said miserably.

“Okay! So, you don’t want to write Westerns. I was just making a point.”

I never realized how much wanting to be a writer was about to change my life.

I threw myself into learning like a dervish. I devoured books—classics and trash at an alarming rate—hoping the more books I read the more words would emerge. I’m sure I became the fastest reader in the South Pacific but unfortunately when I began writing, both my stories and style left a lot to be desired (oops—cliché). I also used too many exclamation marks to emphasize a point (sometimes up to three—I was so carried away). I read that one famous author mentioned that if he felt like putting an exclamation mark after a word he would lie down until it passed.

And so, days, weeks, and months passed and I diligently attended workshops, courses, seminars, and lectures by professional writers, teachers, and rip-off merchants. I used masses of exercise books to report what each one suggested. Something I did learn was that with all the time (valuable) and money spent (ouch!), every one of the “experts” seemed to be at loggerheads.

“Forget the adjectives,” said one, a teacher of English literature at a university.

“In my opinion,” said another (this time an author with 100 short stories and seven novels published), “it’s foolish to forget adjectives—if you pare it down too much you’ll have nothing left.”

And yet another: “You can only break the rules of writing when you know them well enough to know which rules can be broken successfully.” (Huh?)

“Write only what you know—write from experience,” said a very successful fantasy and science fiction writer. (Alrighty!)

Confused, weary, and a teeny weeny bit irritated, I pondered. Did Agatha Christie really commit all those murders? Did H.G. Wells really step into a time machine? Was Ian Fleming really James Bond and did he really make love to all those women? Wow! Is there something here that I am missing?

I heard, “I like your story very much, dear. Your style is emerging beautifully.” Beautifully? I blinked and smiled agreeably (no one can say I lack a sense of humor). “But, do take out the fat man. I don’t like him, no, not at all. Ruined it, darling. He spoils the entire story.” The fat man was a “walk on” and uttered two sentences. A budding Hemmingway loved my fat man and if I threw him in the wastepaper basket, one of my most colorful characters would be lost to the world forever.

Tottering to bed at night my ears rang with “flesh out the characters, use body language, create tension, show-don’t tell, talking heads are a no-no” and my very favorite: “Don’t dangle those participles.”

I showed my teeth—but I wasn’t smiling.

Researching is supposed to be very interesting and the sense of achievement that one gets from it can be almost therapeutic (they say). So, away I went to research. You name it, I researched it. I became bogged down in history, religion, murder, love, and comedy. Thousands of pieces of paper surrounded me and to relieve tension I sometimes laughed out loud which sounded oddly like a demented parrot. My eyes crossed and swiveled alarmingly (Oops, sorry. It’s not politically correct to make fun of eyes– even if they are your own). My back ached from hours slouched in front of my computer. My neck stiffened and I needed my neck in good working order because it supported my head that housed masterpieces (which still hadn’t emerged).

And while all this was going on my husband was commissioned to write a manual on airport security and sailed through it as if he was out yachting on the Hauraki Gulf. My smile felt glued to my face (no one can say I lack a sense of humor).

If this is what happened when you wanted to write—Stuff it, I thought. I’ve had enough. I’m not playing anymore!

I stayed away from writing for about a month, seeking new interests. I tried to bring out hidden talents (there had to be some). I would be a great artist—have an exhibition of my paintings. Unfortunately my painting of a thrush looked like a cross between an eagle and Quasimodo. Eventually, I surrendered to the truth. I could only draw stick-men. My flower arrangements looked as if they had been tossed into a vase. Plants withered the minute I touched them. The last straw was my attempt to create tiny rosebuds for an iced cake. I really think my husband went too far suggesting I used concrete mix. Enthusiasm died. So, sulking or glancing longingly at the hideous metal monster which stared back at me (you’ve guessed it), I crept back.

This time I did things at a more leisurely pace. I wrote, enjoying it more and more. Everything became easier and I realized that I must have absorbed a lot of the teaching, retaining what was useful and discarding the useless. I relaxed, became less tense about my writing. Sensitivity was a thing of the past. I had acquired skin like a rhinoceros.

I enjoy the camaraderie that writers give to each other. Why, only the other day I listened attentively while another writer went on about how her characters had a life of their own and did what they wanted to do.

“I can’t do anything with them, my deah,” she gushed. “They refuse to listen to me. Do you get the same problem with yours?”

I thought about the years of learning, of trying to understand everything that had been thrown at me. The struggle, trying to remember everything. Writer’s block. Tears.

Critiques that stung like a sharp slap. Critiques that winded me.

And then I thought about the help, kindness, support, and best of all—praise.

“No—I get very little trouble with my characters. They do exactly what I want them to do.”

I smiled. (No one can say I lack a sense of humor.)

Babs Halton is the author of two children’s books and has published a book of poetry. One of her stories has appeared the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and she has won awards for local competition entries. Now writing a novel (thriller), she hopes to have it completed by early 2006.