"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
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
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
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 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.