Thursday, October 3, 2013

Truthiness

Fog, islands, and inspiration on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage.
Samuel Larson on Flickr

Deli meats, beers, and bird dogs in a boat


Commonly, the first rule of writing is just this - write what you know (perhaps that’s the only rule). So, if you want to truly write about something, about 90 to 95 percent of your time should be dedicated to learning about that thing. When you look at it from such an angle, it's easy to wonder how anyone writes about anything at all.

More commonly, though, I think, folks arrive at writing in the opposite fashion. Yes, rather than choosing a topic arbitrarily to study for several years, I think it must be true that most educated, passionate authors of anything arrive at their passionate, learned selves of said topic only after living out what they write about.

That is, one does not simply wake up one day and say, "I shall write about the best way to make sandwiches," and then go ahead scrawling all his or her ideas down about breads, meats and cheeses without first having some experience with those ingredients. Most likely the author first has been eating sandwiches all his or her life, or at least making them - perhaps in a delicatessen...

In the deli, the author slaved away behind a big, glass cold case of shaved meats and cheese delicacies. The author stocked the cooler with slabs of ham, browsed through produce that came in off the truck, kept the display case, slicers, counters, floors and all the utensils of his job absolutely spotless and in prime condition to serve up only the finest sandwich experience to all the land.

He formed opinions about the appropriate thickness of smoked provolone according to the bread used and what sort of onion his customer preferred. He experimented with 12 different varieties of shaved turkey breast, corned beef, salami and summer sausage before he settled on which tasted the best for a picnic on the river.

The author chipped away, day by day, making mental notes, forming habits, perfecting his craft and his proficiency. Sure, it is highly unlikely he ever intended to sit down and write a thesis on it; however, the knowledge and first-hand experience is there should he ever need it. Consequently, his life is enriched; he has learned a trade, mastered a craft.

Perhaps years later he can look back on his work in the deli - the people he worked with, all the cold meats, his boss who was a DJ on the weekends - and draw from the experience to illustrate some concept. At that moment, he realizes his time spent at the seemingly monotonous task has been well spent. He has learned something, quite intimately, and can speak from that experience, reflecting on it in order to draw parallels and to solve future problems.

Therein lies the key to interesting writing - problem solving. In fact, anything interesting is that way because an obstacle is overcome. A story without a struggle has no compelling purpose at all; thus it lives a life of drab consequence.
Captivating September sunrise on the TFF
Samuel Larsen on Flickr
Often, in these articles, I describe sensations from the outdoors. Revelations through a hole in the ice, daydreaming, skiing or camping. They are not all epic struggles of good versus evil, but I do try to present a path to some truth I have learned, and that is a struggle in itself.

Honesty is important in writing. In order for the reader to believe the author, the reader must trust the author. Of course, the best way to trust the author is believing the author is giving you truth. That is what's compelling - the truth.

Finding the truth is the hardest part about all of this, and this is where I go back to the point of living what you write. What better way to write from experience, to be believable, than to challenge yourself to do.

Last week I spent some time fishing on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage. I had never truly fished it on open water before, and if you know anything about this body of water, you probably know that it is massive. Therefore, I needed a guide, and I was lucky enough to find one in a friend of mine.

Now, previously I've referred to this man as an uncle, a mentor and a boss, but I think it's safe to use friend at this point (beers and bird dogs in a boat are a certified path to friendship). See, I wanted to learn some new fishing spots, a whole new body of water, and even how to catch some new species of fish. I wanted to learn these things first-hand so I could write about them. But first I had to do them myself.

I have to do all of these things before I can write about them or they don't count - the truth doesn't ring clear in the writing. Woodsman Enough is an outdoor feature that welcomes all people, including you, interested in living next to the outdoors as woodsmen, because, quite simply, who's to say that you're not? There is no certification required for the title, only a willingness to learn and engage with your environment.

Therefore, the truth must be in the writing. I cannot claim to fillet walleye and perch without first doing it, so I sought instruction. My intent was to then write about my experience of learning this technique to feed myself, all so that readers may find some interesting perspective to take with them - some modicum of truth I found through struggling. However, I ended up writing mostly about was deli meats.

Write what you know. Even monotonous high school employments can become interesting, truth-seeking stories when left to age.

“...at last I understood that writing was this: an impulse to share with other people a feeling or truth that I myself had.”
- Brenda Ueland

See you out there,
A woodsman in training

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