Friday, March 15, 2013

Being a Good Loser (or, how horses and writing are kind of the same thing)

My big non-writing activity is horseback riding. Which I've probably mentioned before, but you'll have to forgive me, the Alzheimer's is kicking in super early. If I can remember what I ate for breakfast it's a good day (which I cannot, coincidentally).

Right now I'm working on training a young, green horse. He's a gigantic Warmblood with a sweet, relatively docile disposition and so much potential you could weep over it. After a couple months of working with him I'm finally making real, visible progress, and that makes me think of writing.

The fellow in question.
When you first have this idea for a story, all you can see is this glorious picture in your mind of what the end result is going to look like. You're almost tempted not to even work on it, because you don't want to mess with that beautiful picture.

But of course, if you want to get anywhere you do have to start working. So you pull up a word doc and start writing and you're like okay, this is going somewhere, it's fine.

And then you hit a snag. An idea doesn't make sense or a character falls flat or something just feels off. It's like a bad day with the horse - everything is going fine and then out of nowhere they mutiny against every command and try to shove you around in the stall. You're left miserable, wondering what the hell happened and how you can possibly fix it if you don't even know what went wrong.

So then you have a choice. You have to decide: Is it the horse(idea)? Is it me? Or is it both, and do I want to keep working anyway?

The truth is, not every idea works and not every horse is going to work with you. Sometimes there's a personality clash and it's better to switch horses. I have a bunch of old manuscripts, some complete ones, that I finished and realized they sucked. It happens.

I guess the trick here is figuring out what's a barrier you can push through and what's a brick wall. Over time, hopefully, we get better at it. But just a few weeks ago I wrote 50 pages of a project and ended throwing them out wholesale. They weren't good enough and I couldn't make them better. I had to start over from scratch.

But then I started a new story, and it did work; it worked a hundred times better than the old one.

So maybe the key isn't to figuring out when you're playing a losing game. Maybe the key is being a good loser. If you can walk away from a failure (50,000 scrapped words, a horse that you just couldn't teach) and say, "Yeah, I failed, but I'm doing something else now and it's good."

And if it isn't good, you still start all over again.




  2. Horses are an absolute mystery to me, but I understand the analogy. I think it takes courage to throw away 50 pages. It's a great feeling when you know it's working, isn't it?

    1. Thanks! It's not a fun feeling, but sometimes it's necessary. And yes, there's no better feeling in the world than when you're writing something you know is good!