by D. A. Watt
KEY # 1 ATTITUDE
" To be honest, I’ve learned more valuable life lessons from horses than most people. Unlike humans, horses forgive and forget with patient sighs and much lip licking." D. A. Watt
I’ve still got a lot to learn from my four-legged partners.
Proper communication between horse and rider, or reader and writer, creates partnership. A successful rider (the mere act of not falling off) and writer (a not so mere act of telling a damn good story) use the same central keys, attitude, knowledge, tools, techniques, time and imagination to forge a trusting, ongoing relationship.
- Are you using the F words a lot? Fear, frustration, feeling like a failure, lack of fun and lack of funds?
- 80% of all horse enthusiasts break off the love affair with their horse after a year.
- Only three 3% of writers ever finish their first novel. An agent from one of the big literary agencies receives about thirty-two thousand queries, yearly. From that amount, she’ll usually represent 9 books, only 5 of which get published. Gasp!
With stats like these it’s easy to freak out, but don’t, after all YOU ARE one of the 3% who has completed the novel, and YOURS will be one of the published 5. Prior and proper preparation makes for peak performance, RIGHT? Attitude, you’d better believe. HUBRIS, if you don’t have it, get it.
Now that you have hubris, listen up. Prior and proper preparation prevents piss poor performance. Before setting foot in stirrup, I had better do the ground work even if it means looking foolish. I’ve bounced giant pi-yo balls around the stable, trotted in the round pen next to my horse while I dream of this.
I’ve ridden without bridle and saddle, holding a four foot carrot stick topped with a plastic bag, and wackier stuff, much to the amusement of horse and human. So what if they snicker? Afterall, any jackass will tell you he’s got horse sense.
Building a foundation of trust with my horse should take less than four ounces of force (that’s half a cup of press or pull) to keep us both safe. For example, on the ground, can I easily pick her feet, or do we play tug of hooves, ending with my toes stomped? And if I can’t move her on the ground in all six directions, why would she listen to me sitting in her saddle like a baby in a highchair?
- If my story is not worth a reader’s “willing suspension of disbelief,” as Coleridge wrote, then I need further preparation. Does your imaginary work enlarge the reader’s sense of reality?
- So, your heroine can breathe underwater, your hero is a giant cockroach, and the bad guy is really an archangel? Ok, if you’ve done the groundwork, enlarged my sense of reality, made an impossible story probable and touched upon all the zones of craft, I, the reader, will eagerly saddle up for the ride.
- Aristotle wrote another nugget worth chewing, “That which is probable and impossible is better than that which is possible and improbable.”
Horses are prey animals, food for carnivores, born to run panic-aholics, sort of like big rabbits. Maybe you’ve encountered Monty Python’s killer bunny.If so, that doesn't count, typically bunnies run from danger, as do horses. Let’s say, you’re riding your horse, cantering a woodsy trail when a wind blown plastic bag zips by. Guess what? If your horse doesn’t trust your leadership, she’ll take charge, and gallop off into the sunset, with or without you. Not quite the way you’d hoped, unless you live a Grimm’s Fairy Tales world.
Imagine the audacity of writing a 400 page novel without prior and proper preparation? As I’ve said before, ‘Any jackass will tell you he’s got horse sense.’ Even if I think my super amazing story is the best thing since sliced bread, I need to do the work. That means learning craft, reading books, attending workshops, classes, conferences, online aids (NaNoWriMo is a great tool and it’s happening right NOW!), and more, so that my story reads with less than four ounces of force.
After all that, I will have to go naked, exposing my opus for review. It’s not pretty. It’s also not easy, balancing hubris, courage and humility to listen without tossing manure. I’ve learned to lighten up. Over time, criticism looses its bite. I’ve lost poetic darlings. I’ve grieved over the murder of a beloved metaphor, and axed scenes that took all week to write, all because a reliable critic said so. And for this I am grateful.
When I described the inside of my heroine’s upper arm as, “soft as the belly of a baby barracuda,” my critique partners had a good laugh. And when Sharla Rae wrote about “bowels of soup,” I got back at her with hysterics.
Join me next time when we cover the second key, knowledge. We’ll cover focus, asking, telling, and promising. If the act of successful riding merely means not falling off, then I’ve still got a lot to learn, and if a story is a promise, then I promise, you won’t find bowels of soup or soft baby barracuda bellies in Sharla Rae’s books or mine.