Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

February 7th, 2005

The Fish Rap
By Dave Micus

"I hate writing. I love having written," Dorothy Parker once said, but I think Ms. Parker had it wrong. Writers hate not writing. There is not much more exhilarating then having the words you put on the page get up and dance; and not much more dismal than staring at a blank piece of paper with an equally blank mind. Unfortunately, it is the latter scenario I find myself in lately.

We've had record cold and snow in Northeastern New England, and when I sit in my writer's garret (ok, a desk by the window, but indulge me) and gaze out at the water I see, not the Miss Rachel, a sailboat that my neighbor built by hand using Joshua Slocum's Spray as a model, but a frozen tundra dotted with giant ice floes. Plum Island Sound is my Yoknapatawpha County, the setting for my stories and the source of my inspiration, but it's been three months since I've been able to visit. So with no stories at hand and a column due, I'll write about writing (which, ironically, is its own genre-just check out any writing magazine).

The writer's life is one of fits and starts. Sometimes the stories rush out of you like kids out of school at the closing bell; other times you gaze at an empty page and wonder if the well of words has finally run dry. It's then that you seek inspiration only to realize that inspiration is a funny thing; it seems to only come to those already inspired. This still wouldn't be a problem if it was just a matter of putting words on paper, but writing needs to be much more than that. The things I labor over in my writing likely go unnoticed by the reader; transitions and cadence (what Jane Smiley calls calibration of language), and analogies, some transparent, others opaque. Mostly I want my words to be like water, flowing gently but capable of crashing with a thunderous roar.

When the words don't flow I turn to authors I admire for a jump start, authors with a command of the language, like Thomas McGuane and, more so, Saul Bellow. Sometimes their writing provides a back beat, and I can fill in the tune. Books by guides stay on the shelf.

Yet there are times when this trick doesn't work, and all the while the writing assignments back up. I write for three publications; a weekly web site, a bi-monthly paper, and a monthly web site. Unfortunately, they vary enough that I can't just recycle material; regrettably, only one of them offers financial remuneration. And while that isn't usually an issue, when I'm in a writing slump and struggling to meet a deadline I can't help but feel that writing for free just doesn't pay.

A famous fly fisher (funny there is such a thing) once told me that I was a very good writer but would never be a great writer because my ego was too big, an odd assessment as the very act of putting your thoughts on paper in the belief that someone else is interested in reading them requires an immense ego. No, my ego isn't the problem. I'll never be a great writer because I don't write about great things. I write about fishing, newspaper columns that a co-worker cleverly but caustically refers to as 'fish wrap.'

But every now and again I spin a fairly decent fish tale and, for now, that's good enough for me. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.

Previous Dave Micus Columns

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