Catch and Release of a New Deadline

Catch and Release of a New Deadline
To write a “How To” piece, know what you're talking about…and don’t be a blowhard!

Well here we are again, another glorious holiday weekend and the fishing conditions are calling like mythical sirens. Unfortunately though, the outdoor conditions are a heck of a lot better than your own personal ones for the moment. Once again, as family and friends await with fine foods, festivities and rods and reels high at the ready, there you are - isolated and lashed to a keyboard in a dimly lit man cave, struggling against the ropes of another stressful magazine deadline. To quote Marlin Brando in Apocalypse Now, just after the machete swung home: "The horror, the horror…"

The festivities and sirens will just have to wait, as for now it's just an exhausted you, beaten up from days on the water and various other demands, with the English language as your only tool but with perhaps a small glimmer from hell you can actually use it to contribute something new for over the two hundredth time. Wait - what was that you said? You too wanna write about your fishing passion, to become a wordsmith of tales and personal tribulations? Well OK then…. just come on in and let's go there!

Many folks tell me they dream of sharing their own fishing observations and experiences in a public forum. Sure, that can be very rewarding - but also quite demanding, especially if you do more than just a few, and especially if you're like me and are not "really" a writer. (Hey, if I was…those deadlines wouldn't be such a big deal, right?) The real truth is, and we've all seen it, is that there are a lot of people who can write, a lot of people who can fish, but very few who can do both as well as the other.

We do have some great talent here at TSFM though; storytellers like Martin, pro-experts like Jay, real life doctors such Billy Sandifer, passion players like Rowsey, realist bitches like Scott Sommerlatte, dedicated anal analyst ala Kevin, plus all of our knowledgeable guide writers who just tell it like it is. In this day of insatiable information hunger there is room for everybody. I can't qualify as any of the above, but what I might be able to offer are a few suggestions for the newer hopefuls out there; based solely from reader feedback after entering my thirteenth year as a monthly gladiator in the glossy arena.

My only true qualifications are being eaten up with fishing for over 45 years and trying to write about it going on 13, at least once per month yet there was a time where I did several more. There was once Professor Finn - a factual-based infomercial on the habits of speckled trout, plus a cartoon character called Capt. Buckethead (a wannabe guide we could all relate to in his failings), and even that tide/solunar chart you see here each month that I used to draw by hand just like we did for ourselves 30 years ago. In the meantime, much of it has come from strange scenarios; midnight boats with blinky laptops, in hospitals with IV in both arms, in other hospital waiting rooms waiting on people (Mother) to die, not to mention dancing around naked by a fire while painting myself blue just looking for inspiration. Just sayin - been there, done that, even if not in a true writer's-guild acceptable sense.

So, just cuz, here are a dozen basic tips from the back side of a reel; the passionate but not necessarily "scriptedly gifted" side, yet a vantage point most real fisherman/readers might enjoy. A huge disclaimer is that most of this goes against most of the helpful suggestions from my paid, full-time writer friends, the true pros, or otherwise "English educated". This is just about writing about fishing, so please pardon the pun, but there are really no straight lines here, just a true love of the sport and inspiring ways to convey what I feel.

1. First off, write about your passion, especially what's immediately inspiring to you. What is important to you as a fisherman will probably be important to the readers as well. Take them there, and then set the hook with your excitement.

2. If you want to write a How To piece, make sure you really know how to do it, and are not just spewing out the same old stuff written for years. That's just plain boring.

3. In fishing, never use the words never, always, or you need to, when talking about fish. Be very careful with, and always qualify your opinions. Nothing worse than demanding your subjective thoughts be taken as absolute fact unless you want to be embarrassed. (Ask Mother Nature). None of us really know what we think we know anyway…only trying to understand what we see.

4. Don't let the grammar Nazi's kill you. You can make up words if you want to, that's a beauty of the English language, and sometimes there are no real words to convey thought more accurately anyway, so just do it. Just make sure the editor-hole gets it through Spell Check. Also, try not to get upset when an editor substitutes his own words above the ones you spent two days choosing. He is there to help…one way or another.

5. It's your content that matters, not your magical keyboard tricks (although that helps make for some good word pictures). Words are cheap but experiences are usually not.

6. If you use a thesaurus, try the nickel section instead of the quarter one. There is high merit to writing like you speak unless it's a technical article like how to change a trailer bearing.

7. Don't be afraid to write badly. Just let it flow and keep going. You can come back for a cleanup sweep later. Just get your thoughts down first.

8. An outline is critical to making things flow. I never could but maybe you can.

9. Find an inspiring place to write. I once asked Shannon Tompkins of the Houston Chronicle where he did his best work. He said in a boiler room with a hundred other typewriters. Unbelievable how he overcame.

10. Keeping notes helps. You never know when you will be smitten with inspiration, and some of the newer phone apps can help to be spontaneous. Save them or forget them.

11. As Everett says, supporting images are everything, and that's where credibility lies. They can document ideas better than we can.

12. Find something new to talk about or, either make old things new or new things familiar. Most readers have read everything, the object is to inspire not imitate.

13. Write from your own heart, not from someone else's idea of whom or what you should be. Once again, the reader will identify and appreciate, trust me.

12. In the end, did what you write actually make people want to run out the door and go fishing? That is the ultimate and final qualifier.

Just FYI, the word deadline originated from the line around a military prison beyond which soldiers were authorized to shoot escaping prisoners. I am escaping into my fishing for a few weeks until the next dreaded due date catches me unprepared…and you can bet I'll be making photos and taking notes…promise!

While I'm at it, let me say thanks so much for all the cards, letters and encouragement over the years. It has meant more than you know. By the way, our youth writers rock, real adventurers they are, so let's live vicariously through their excited learning curve. Good luck guys, and write (and fish) like nobody's looking!