Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


A Fish Story

One thing my fisherman son has taught me is how important patience is to a writer. My son has fished all of his life. For two years, when he was nine and ten, he went to nearby lakes whenever he could, and each time he told me he would bring fish back for dinner. He didn’t.

But failure didn’t seem to bother him. It was the process he enjoyed, finding just the right bait, putting it on the hook, and sending if off into the depths. He loved sitting or standing on shore, waiting for a nibble, taking in all of the activity around him. So if he didn’t catch anything, it wasn’t a loss because he had gained so much from the experience, filling his vision and hearing with sights and sofishing.jpgunds that enriched him in every way. It also gave him an opportunity to drop out of the daily treadmill and think without interruption for a long period of time.

We writers should be familiar with this process. We constantly dip our pens (or computer fingers) into the depths of the unconscious, hoping to snag images and characters, memories and experiences, that we can later embellish with our imaginations. And even if a particular writing period isn’t as fruitful as we’d hoped (no fish for dinner that night), the practice itself of tuning out the outer world and turning inward has its own benefits, a kind of meditation without the ritualistic structure.

This kind of work requires a high degree of patience. For those of us who write novels, it can take many years for one to finally crystallize and be ready for publication. But that’s only the beginning! Finding a publisher is another arduous route we have to take, and there’s no guarantee that our work will ever be accepted by a traditional publisher. Therefore, we must take pleasure in the activity itself, recognizing that the undertaking is as important as the product.

I was recently reminded yet again of this need for patient watching what I’m snagging from the waters of the unconscious while revising a novel that will be published in 2019: Tillie: A Canadian Girl in Training. While I had written a good deal of the narrative, I was having trouble finding the main character’s voice and style. If I’m not drawn in by a character, I’m certain my reader won’t be either, and I wasn’t connecting with her in the way I wanted to. But I kept playing around with the material, and eventually the character broke free of whatever restraints I had put on her, becoming fully realized. Such a relief to have all of that time and effort pay off!

So the moral of this story is don’t take your hook out of the water too soon or you might miss out on whatever bigger fish waiting there for you to catch.



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