In 2007, the Write Place published its very first book: The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler by Jeff Rowland. Over 10 years later, this funny and light-hearted memoir remains a favorite with readers and Write Place team members.
It may come as a surprise, then, that Reel Adventures almost ended up in a landfill instead of on a bookshelf.
Like many (okay, most) authors, Jeff doubted anyone would be interested in reading his book. It got to the point where he seriously considered abandoning the project altogether.
So what stopped him? What encouraged him to keep going?
In this guest blog post, Jeff tells the story of how he overcame his doubts . . . and the incredible impact The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler has had on his life and the life of a close friend.
I still recall that moment of doubt.
What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Who really cares? Those were the thoughts going through my mind as my rough draft went into the trash.
I feel safe in saying that every writer hits moments of doubt. But something inside me made me retrieve that draft and continue piecing together all I had written. I can’t explain the feeling, but I can testify it was one of purpose. I knew there was a reason for what I was doing, but I didn’t know what it was.
Writing a book was a big decision. I had been writing outdoor articles for about three years when the thought of actually publishing a book began to creep into my mind.
I had spent over 30 years angling in Marion County, Iowa, and knew I had much to share. Documenting my stories in memoir form was the path I chose to follow. Once I created an outline, it took me about three months to compile over 20 stories.
That is when I hit the What, Why, Who Syndrome.
That feeling of purpose described above is what compelled me to continue. I didn’t understand the feeling, but I knew something higher than me was driving me to complete the book. Secretly, I had visions of monetary gain. This book was to be about fishing, and I remember thinking, There are 35 million licensed anglers in the U.S. If one percent would purchase my book, I could be doing a lot more fishing.
I knew I had not completed a literary masterpiece, and I did not hit that one-percent mark. But I can now share that the book, The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler, was well received in central Iowa and kept me busy for over a year after the publication date.
For instance, about three months after completing my book I received a letter from a reader. Before I opened it, I remember holding in it my hand and thinking, A letter? Who still sends letters? The contents of that letter gave me full understanding of the true purpose of my writing.
The author of the letter, Private Chris Bates from Knoxville, Iowa, had received my book in a care package from home. He was writing from the front lines of a foreign country; he had six weeks to go on his tour and had been struggling until he received my book.
What had lifted him? A story from my memoir. In the first chapter, I shared how my 12-year-old self had snuck into the VA pond in Knoxville to catch some trout that had been stocked for the veterans who used the campus. I was caught by the VA security guard, but I took off running to elude prosecution for trespassing.
Chris and I were separated in age by over 20 years, and the two of us had never met. But in his letter, he confessed he had also snuck into that same pond in his youth and executed a similar evasive move to avoid capture.
Reading this story made Chris laugh out loud and brought back fond memories from his youth. He was writing to me to share his gratitude. The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler lifted his spirits and helped him feel that making it to the end of his tour was obtainable—a feeling he had been struggling with before the book arrived.
About a week after Chris returned home—and with permission from his wife—I pulled up to his place with my boat. The two of us shared a day out on the lake, catching a suitable number of crappies.
We didn’t discuss what he shared in his letter much, nor did we have long, drawn-out conversations about the events that put the two of us in the same boat. That’s just the way us guys are. What was present (besides the crappies), was an unspoken comradery and understanding, along with the knowledge that we had established a friendship that could only be described as fate.
While writing The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler, I felt I had some entertaining and humorous stories to tell. Not once did I think sharing my stories would generate memories strong enough to make a difference in someone’s life like it did for Chris. Not only did this experience create a friend for life, it helped me fully understand that the gift of writing is an extremely powerful tool.
I am sharing this story for any writer who is hitting a moment of doubt, whether they are just thinking of writing a book or are in the process of doing so.
I have two words of advice for you: Just write!
You never know where it may lead.