KEEP WRITING OUTDOOR ESSAYS
Chris Madson rings the bell for the long outdoor essay, or it is the death knell? I know. I used to write them. A lot of them. And I used to sell them to all kinds of outdoor and nature magazines, sometimes as back page pieces, or as a regular columns, or occasionally as a center piece essay, complete with a custom illustrations. One time I put a stack of rejected essays together and, with the help of an excellent editor, published a book, Pavlov’s Trout, now something of a classic.
Back in the day, I made some pretty good money writing essays; you know, more than two figures for a single effort. And Chris is right, you can’t query an essay. You can’t query a poem. And you can’t query humor. Not that anyone buys much humor anymore. Either all the funny people have died or humor has, take your pick. We have a few humor writers left in our ranks, and thank God for them, but finding anything funny to read anywhere else is pretty much impossible, if you don’t count politics.
Anyone who doesn’t drool for a living knows you can’t make rent writing essays, unless you can make a very good living at it – which handful of jobs are already occupied by better writers than me, and most likely you. Except for a little project I was dared into last year by an artist pal (The Search for Elusive Trout – True Tales & Cocktails), I have laid off essay and humor writing entirely.
But I don’t want you to. No, I want you to keep writing them. Pay or no pay. Save them. Pile them up. Think of your kids. Think of your grandkids. Someday someone will create an “expand your attention span” app. Someday people will wonder what our lives were like in the Great Outdoors. Why did we go fishing? Why did we hunt and kill things? Half of the world’s population lives in a city now, and by mid-century it will be 60%, and beyond that who knows.
If you don’t tell them about life the outdoors, who will? I read and reread the journals kept by my pioneer ancestors from mid-1850s on, trying to feel what they felt, see Iowa and Colorado and the west as they saw it and lived it. My parents wrote out their life stories, which are treasures beyond compare. Writing ain’t, after all, about the money. If it was only about the money, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Don’t shirk. Do your job. Do you duty. Don’t bang out one more 300-worder and pretend you moved a reader.
Say what you need say from your heart, from that deep place only you can go. Because if you don’t, you risk our never knowing who you really are, or were.
— Paul Quinnett, Cheney, Washington
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— Joan Turner, Columbia, Missouri
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KEEP WRITING OUTDOOR ESSAYS