Thursday, December 9, 2010

on getting back in the saddle

I got thrown off of a horse once. When I was in Uruguay my wonderful host family took me out to an estancia for some real old-fashioned gaucho style horseback riding. My grandmother raised Arabians when I was a kid so I’m plenty comfortable around horses but I had never been on a horse like the first one they gave me to ride. So much did this horse not pay attention to my direction that I was tempted to ask the lady who owned the ranch if the commands were different in the southern hemisphere. I managed to get the horse just down the long drive and past the gate when it decided that this ride was over and turned tail and GALLOPED back towards the ranch. I managed to slow him down only long enough for him to buck me off and toss me into a huge pile of prickly weeds. The horse looked down at me with, I swear to God, a smug expression. I was shaken and as I climbed out of the weeds the ranch owner and her son came up the drive in her truck to see if I was okay.

“I’m okay,” I said, “but this horse is crazy!”

“Oh yes,” she said, smiling and revealing a mouth with more gaps than teeth, “he won’t let anyone ride him.”

The important thing about this story is not that the ranch owner decided to punk my unwitting American behind (who thought I knew so much about horses), but that I did get back on and ride the rest of the day. Not on the psycho horse obviously—that would’ve been a death wish—but on two other horses, one old slow one and one that was a perfect fit. I had an amazing day riding alone on the wide open dirt roads in the Uruguayan countryside, an experience I will always remember and wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t gotten back in the saddle. There’s a reason the hackneyed phrase ‘get back on the horse’ became hackneyed in the first place: because it’s so apt. Those moments after I got thrown were crucial, I got either continue riding or let the now very justified fear of getting thrown hold me back. When you give a fear like that power it can very quickly become bigger than the thing itself.

This is equally true with writing. The only way I got over the disappointment of not selling my first novel and started feeling like myself again was to start writing the next one in earnest. I only wish I had gotten back to it sooner instead of wallowing for the better part of the year before going back to face the demons of the blank page and blinking cursor. During my wallow, my mentor told me something that I now have tacked to my bulletin board like a quote from a famous person (and considering how I feel about her, it might as well be); ‘never ever let the business of writing infect the art of creating’. She said start a new novel now, fall in love with something else as quickly as possible. It was harder to get back in and start writing again when I knew in such a visceral way what it would feel like to get to the end of the many, many hours that it takes to write a novel and have it not work out. I had lost my writerly innocence. But the fear loomed largest when I wasn’t writing, once I remember that there was satisfaction and even the occasional moment of joy to be found in writing, the fear felt surmountable.

In attempts to prove to myself that I’ve actually learned my lessons from the last go round I am not going to wallow for a year before starting my new novel, I am not even going to wait until I have something to wallow about. I am going to start today! Well, okay tomorrow because today I wrote this post which must count for something with the writing gods, right?

What are you afraid of?


  1. I'm afraid of failing and succeeding.

    I like to have all the bases covered.

  2. ‘never ever let the business of writing infect the art of creating’

    Perfect. I'm stealing it.

  3. Me, too. I'm stealing that line.

    I'm afraid of putting myself out there for rejection. As long as it remains a big "if," I have potential. I'm terrified to have my self-doubt confirmed.