The best writing advice I ever got came from my wife, Anastasia. I wasn't even a writer yet when she told me this, not a published one anyway. And on the day she said it, I wasn't even trying to be a writer. We were fishing. We hadn't caught anything, and it was getting late. We were tired and sunburned and, most of all, hungry. The day, she said, would've been better if we'd brought sandwiches. So my best advice for the young writers of the world is this: Never go fishing without a sandwich.
I learned this the hard way, when I still lived in Montana. Things are generally learned harder in Montana, because it is full of majestic grandeur that can kill you. It's also full of cold rivers that are themselves full of trout. Catching trout is difficult and sometimes requires long hours of failure before a person can catch one. And it takes years before an angler can expect to catch them with any regularity. And even then, failure remains the norm. There seems to be an analogy taking shape here, about the writing process, but of course my advice is only sandwich-related.
If you're not a catch-and-release type, you might think, I don't need to bring a sandwich because I have a frying pan. But this is pure folly because trout are smart and fickle, and sometimes the petty gods of river and weather can plot against you. There are also snakes in the river. And irritable moose ranging about. But the true mistake out here is to think that you'll actually be done fishing in time to return for lunch. No one ever returns in time for lunch in Montana. After all, the drive out here is quite long to begin with, and then, when your best fishing hole fails you, the subsequent trips to the other spots upriver take you even farther from home.
You obviously didn't come all the way out here to not catch anything, but you're hungry now, and need to take a break to rethink your approach, and the salted nut roll at the bottom of your bag isn't going to do it for you. And there's that moose again, ranging closer now, snorting at you. Don't fool yourself, the moose is not your friend. You're a writer, you have no friends. Or, you have some friends, but they probably can't help you with this writing thing. You're alone out here in the wilderness of my fishing analogy. I suggest hiking up the bank in search of an older fisherman to ask what they're biting on. Perhaps this more experienced person will take pity on you and help somehow. Or perhaps you should apply to an MFA program in order to be guaranteed the assistance of able mentors.
But I'm off topic again. I've basically driven us home before lunch when I've already explained that that never ever happens. We haven't caught a fish yet, and it's already two o'clock and if you packed up right now and hiked back to the car—where the hell is the car, anyway?—you'd get back into town closer to dinner than lunch. Lunch is over, man, and you didn't bring a sandwich. This is going to take a really long time, this endeavor. Even if you get lucky and catch a fish today, you're going to want to catch another one after that, and another. Trust me. You're going to want to come out here next weekend and do it all over again, until you feel that the fish aren't just taking pity on you, and that the river gods approve of your cast. They don't approve of it yet, but they can see that it's getting better, and that you're serious about this whole project—which is what the sandwich is all about. Yes, the sandwich. You'll eventually learn to bring it along, as it proves that you're in for the whole day and the long haul, which is the only strategy that ever worked.