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Finding the right words

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POSTED September 25, 2012 10:11 p.m.

It’s a little uncomfortable writing about myself sometimes.

This last week I’ve really focused on finishing a manuscript that’s taken way too long. Columns are a lot easier because it’s usually a 600-word account of something that I did over the week, or a few fish that were stupid enough to mistake my fly for food.

A book manuscript is a different animal. You wade through pages and pages of words that you hope articulate what’s happened only to think that you’ve misrepresented, understated, or confused it. Put it this way, you can have a great, exciting life, then totally stink at trying to write it.

Because you spend so much time editing tens of thousands of words and always find fresh mistakes, you wonder who is going to ever pay money to read this, and is there someone out there crazy enough to read it again, or even recommend someone else buy it? Then you take a deep breath and remember very few manuscripts ever even become books, so sales is the last thing you should be worried about.

Still you then wonder that if, and it is a big if, it does get published, what if everyone but your mom thinks it stinks.

So you stand up and walk around because you realize you’ve been sitting in the same spot for three hours. The sun has set, you have nothing planned for dinner, your vision is fuzzy from staring at your lap top and you can’t feel your right ankle.

You laugh because it was an old basketball injury and for a split second you think about writing it as a new chapter. But you’re exhausted and the story is only good if you can use inflection and show the ankle rolling. You don’t get those visual aids in a book. So again, how is this ever going to work?

You walk over to your bookshelf, after finally eating left over pasta with meat sauce and stare at the spines of books by guys like John Gierach whose words have been mass produced and bound under more than a dozen different titles over decades.

Each one sells more books than Manteca has people. He fishes just like you. Well, not exactly like you. He uses premium bamboo rods and gets flown around the country and Canada on assignment, but he does fly fish. You fly fish, too.

His works are pretty straight forward. They are easy reads about fishing, but not really about fishing. This is the detail that makes him one of the best authors about angling ever. You can set down a Gierach book for two months, then pick it right back up because it’s just a bunch of essays about fish, trips and the philosophy therein.

Sounds easy enough. You can do that, right? You open a Gierach book and pay attention to the types of words and the way he uses the language. You read a passage. It’s funny. You wonder if the lines that are supposed to be funny in your manuscript will be.

Again, you remember you don’t yet have a publisher. You sent a previous draft to a college journalism professor of yours who has written books and remembered his words, “There is a book here, but not in its current form.”

So you added 20,000 words, reshaped, reorganized, rewrote, rethought, then cut 10,000.

You start to entertain the idea that since you are not the wordsmith John Gierach is, just getting a manuscript finished is enough. But it’s not.

You set out for a specific purpose. You run marathons. You don’t sign up for them then pat yourself on the back. Well, you could, but then you’d stand there watching other people live the life you want but lack the intestinal fortitude to get.

So you sit back down, the hour of self-doubt has passed.

 

To contact Jeff Lund, email aklund21@gmail.com.

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