After promising this blog topic, I received a Facebook comment asking how many times one should get back on before giving up. Another friend said at least 100.
While I've used the "get back on that horse" metaphor a number of times in this blog, I'm here to say that I've got some new clarity on that metaphor.
It may have be based on the fact I broke Sue's fence rail with my head…
Regardless, my new vision on that is this: "It depends."
Believe it or not, I'm not going to say you always have to get back on. At least not right away.
Here's what happened in Real Life:
My Mom and her best friend had come all the way out to Oakham to visit me and my horse. I was overly excited, especially after a fabulous weekend of Calico being a total angel. I was also more than a little nervous because I realllly wanted to show off for my mom. "Look how cool I am! Look how great my horse is! You don't have to worry so much about us."
You see where this is going?
In any case, my thought was just to hop on her, bareback, and walk once around the ring.
I may also want to mention here that it was drizzling out. And while lunging her, I could tell she was NOT in a good mood. And I knew I was nervous and overexcited.
In any case, I walked her over to the mounting stairs, proudly climbed and plopped on her back, slipped, freaked, and she started. I fell… right into Sue's fence.
Still shaken, my stubborn side decided I needed to prove that this could be done.
I was humble enough to let Mom's friend hold Calico this time.
Mounting was uneventful. We walked around the ring, and I was set to dismount. I lost my balance yet again, but instead of letting myself fall, I panicked and grabbed Cali's neck. Yeah… stupid. She freaked at my grab and rather than fall, I kind of flew.
Needless to say, my mom was all worked up and made me swear I'd call her every single night this week.
If I had stopped and took a good assessment of the situation, I wouldn't have gotten on Cali's back at all. It was a crappy day, I was tired, and she was grumpy. Oh, and I'm barely a beginner when it comes to riding.
Getting on a second time was an even worse idea.
I have a good relationship with my Mom. She was just happy to have seen me and my horse; I really had nothing to prove. But people do stupid things. (And animals want to know WTF we are thinking.)
Now, if I was on a trail, I'd have to get back on and deal. That's just the situation. There's a need to do that, and I've done it before (a few times). In this case, there was no need and the effect was just spooking my poor horse (who did, by the way, stop and make sure I was ok both times) and hurting myself.
Know yourself; know your situation; decide accordingly.
Applied to writing?
Some days writing just sucks. You can physically make yourself sick (I know, I have) trying to get something down. Anything!
If you're writing on spec (i.e. you don't have a deadline for which someone has given/promised you money to complete by), maybe you don't need to get on THAT horse right now. Maybe you just need to walk it out, outline, let it ruminate a little. Try getting back on another day.
Note the last sentence. Try getting back on another day. Don't quit forever. I'll be getting back on Calico again, in a situation where I'm better prepared and have a trainer or trusty horseperson with me.
The danger in giving yourself time after you fall off is that your brain develops a fear of going back. It's a common problem… even in horse training. That's why you always end a training session with something positive. After my second fall, I walked her and gave her a good rub-down/massage. Too often, writers will say they can't do it, they have writers block, and they say that EVERY DAY THEREAFTER because they are afraid of the situation, of the story, of what might or might not happen.
I was back out at the barn today. We did some ground work and started building our relationship again. In a week and a half, I've got a trainer coming and I'll hop back on her then. The project and relationship is not at a dead end. I just needed to step back.
With writing, it's a relationship with the Work In Progress. At any time, I've got 3-4 WIPs, so if I'm stuck on one, I write on another. I also can go back and do some character profiling, or outlining, or research (like learning how one does, in fact, deal with kelpies). Just because I can't pump out words doesn't mean I have to not work on something, or that it's dead in the water.
Maybe I don't feel like hopping on Calico right away - at least not without some help - but it doesn't mean I can't work with her. It doesn't mean I won't ever try riding her again. That would be awful! Think of everything I'd miss - trail rides, the feel of riding, the bonding.
With a story, think of what you're missing by not riding it out. What adventures won't happen? What characters will you never meet or love? What emotions will you never explore? Take a breath, take a break, assess the situation - where you are, where your story is - and then take the next steps you need to take. It may mean better outlining or slower plotting, but keep working with it, even in a reduced capacity.
Just remember, though, you don't always have to get right back on after a fall. Sometimes it's okay to take a break… so that next time you're ready to get on your horse, you're better prepared for the adventure.