This past weekend I did two things I’ve never done before: 1) took a writing retreat; and 2) fly fished. Let’s just say neither turned out quite like I’d hoped, but the weekend wasn’t a total wash.
In my previous post, I talked about my current WIP and how difficult it is to write. I’ve been stuck in a particular spot for the last couple weeks. I know where the story goes, what happens, how everything goes down, but the words wouldn’t work. They kept coming out all wrong and nothing I did made them any better.
I planned writing nights to focus solely on working through the problems, but life kept intervening. A conference call at work that ran hours over. A meeting at church. A run away dog. Hang out time with friends. Every time I wanted to write, something came up that took me away from it. Every time I finally got to sit down with my manuscript, the coffee shop would be loud and packed, or the words wouldn’t budge from my stubborn brain.
So I figured a writing retreat was just what I needed. I found a cabin a few hours away on one of the best trout fishing rivers in the country (or so the internet proclaimed). One that was nice and secluded, with a good kitchen so I could cook and not have to leave all weekend. Hubs loves fishing, so he loaded up on fly-fishing gear and came along. Just us, the river, and words.
Or so I thought.
A couple things I hadn’t planned on happened. Upon arriving at our adorable cabin–which was as promised, nice kitchen, hot tub, riverfront, and so secluded I thought the car was going to slide off the sketchy one-lane dirt road and down the extremely steep hill to the side–we learned our section of the river was below a dam. Meaning the water was prone to random rapid rises. Random, because even though the folks at the dam posted a schedule of when they would be releasing the water, they never stuck to it. And rapid as in within ten minutes the water rose several feet and the current sped up enough to sweep everything–people included–down river. Suffice it to say, this made for a bit of a nerve-wracking fishing trip for Hubs, and for distracted writing time for myself. Every time he’d don his waders and pick his way to the center of the river, we had to choose a reference point to keep an eye on in case the dam released. Of course he was distracted by trying to fly-fish (did I mention he’d never done it before? We stayed up the night before watching instructional videos online. Yep, we’re professionals, ha!), and I was nervous he wouldn’t notice the water rising until it was too late, so I ended up down at the dock writing long-hand and watching a seam on a rock.
Further complications were my fear of getting hooked by an overeager cast (which almost happened once and made me understandably fearful), the enthusiastic four-wheeler riders at the cabin down the way, and the fact that all the trout the river was supposed to be teaming with were nowhere to be seen. Frustrated, Hubs found a public park/hatchery a little ways down and talked me into going with him the next day.
Despite all this, I managed to get words down. Four-wheeler-ers aside, the woods were pretty quiet. Not to mention a large part of my WIP occurs in the woods, so being right in the thick of it inspired a couple new scenes. By the end of the day I’d typed up what I’d written and was feeling so good I decided to treat myself by hopping into Hubby’s waders and getting in the water. The dam had released by this point, so I didn’t wade out into it or anything. I stayed on/by the ladder on our dock, but it was a neat experience.
So neat that the next day I decided to give it another shot. We went down the park Hubs had found, only about a five minute drive once we got off the steep, sketchy dirt road. Hubs fished for a couple hours while I sat at a picnic table continuing the scene I’d been working on the previous day, still writing long-hand. The words came a little, but it was still a lot of [insert action here] and [write something along these lines], and I was grateful when Hubs said he’d had enough. Nothing was biting and our stomachs were grumbling. Before we left though, I wriggled back into the waders and slipped into the water, fishing pole in hand, ready to try this fly fishing thing for real.
Like I said at the beginning, I’d never fly fished before. I had, however, watched all the instructional videos. I knew what to do. I confidently strode through the water and tugged the line out to the right length. I locked my wrist, whipped the line back and forth, and released, expecting the line to float out over the water.
It wrapped around my wrist and went absolutely nowhere. I tried again. Nothing. Over and over. Finally it went a little ways, but nothing like the smooth cast in the videos. Hubs had struggled the first day, but he picked it up pretty quick. We’d watched the same videos, I had my hand in the right place, moved the rod like I was supposed to, surely I’d get the hang of it too, right? Wrong. I fought that line the entire time, and the more I fought, the more frustrated I got, and the worse things went. When I finally gave up and waded back to shore, Hubs showed me a video he’d recorded.
Holy crap, I looked goofy! Arm raised like the Statue of Liberty. Rod extended way behind my head. It was terrible. You can actually see the moment I realize it won’t work and give up. My shoulders slump. I turn to the shore and shrug. Then hang my head and wade back–not even gracefully gliding through the water like I thought. I clomp over the rocks like a little kid dressing up in their parent’s shoes (the wading boots were a men’s 11 and I’m a women’s 9, so not sure why I thought I’d do anything but clomp).
So fly fishing is not my thing. I tried and failed. Gloriously, I might add. That’s one video no one other than me and Hubby will ever watch. But I did realize something: I’d been fighting my story the same way I fought the fly rod. I was struggling against the story, so the story wasn’t flowing.
Sometimes your story gets away from you and you have to wrangle it back in. The line gets twisted around the pole and doesn’t flow out when you cast. You wrestle with it and fight it and sometimes it’s like it takes on a mind of it’s own, determined to make your life miserable.
That’s when you stop.
I bet if I watched a video of me trying to write over the past few weeks, I ‘d see the same thing I saw when fishing. I’d literally watch myself get dejected and give up. I’ve been struggling, trying to make the story do what I wanted it to do instead of letting it work the way it’s meant to work.
There’s a key difference between fly fishing and spinner fishing. I’ve always spinner fished, where you let the reel do all the work. It controls the line, you just flick your wrist. Fly fishing is a completely different world. A fly reel is basically a line holder. It’s up to the fisher to make the line work.
I am not a fly fisher. I’m a spinner fisher through and through.
When we returned to the cabin that afternoon, I stopped trying to fly fish my story. I stopped struggling against the words. I paused and let the story turn in the direction it needed. And for the first time all weekend, I felt like I had the perfect cast.
Sometimes you just need to stop trying. Take a breath. Listen to your story. Like a spinner reel, let the story do all the work and just go along for the ride.
Hubs finally caught a fish on our last night, and I finally caught my story again. So overall, I think my little retreat was a success.