I am a horse person. Maybe better to say I am horse-obsessed. If I’m fast-forwarding past the commercials in a DVRed TV show, I’ll hit pause if I see a horse (gotta love those Budweiser Clydesdales). When I’m out driving in our semi-rural area, my gaze will rove over the surrounding pastures, admiring the bays and appys and chestnuts and grays (those are horse colors for the uninformed) ambling about. I’ll walk up to total strangers in the supermarket and strike up a conversation if they’re wearing chaps and boots.
I ride my Andalusian/Morgan mare 3-4 days a week, mainly in the arena. Although she’s a nice horse on the trail, mostly I do dressage with her. That’s one of those equestrian disciplines that’s fascinating for its participants and dead boring for everyone else. A horsie friend’s hubby has a T-shirt that says, “Whoever said life is too short has never watched dressage.”
When riding dressage, the movements are pretty controlled on the part of rider and horse. The horse has to be very attentive to the rider, to pay attention to each request made of her and be ready to segue into the next.
On the trail, on the other hand, I ride my horse on a loose rein, let her take a gander at the countryside, admire the view, maybe snatch a little mouthful of grass. She should still pay attention to me (I’m not letting her march me through the poison oak, no way no how), but it’s supposed to be more relaxing for horse and rider. Plus, if she smells a mountain lion and takes off running, I’m gonna let her take the lead.
So, what about your writing? How do you approach it? Do you keep it on a tight rein? Do you pin down every little detail about your characters, the plot, every turning point, dark moment, what and where the climax will be?
Or do you just sit and start writing, pages and pages of stuff in some sort of free form way? Characters popping up as you go, the story revealed to you just as it will be revealed to the reader (mega-bestselling author Lee Child said he does it that way).
Which way should it be? To some extent, I think it depends on the writer. I personally like some of that dressage-like preparation. It also depends on what you’re writing–a first draft? Go ahead and gallop down that trail if that works for you. A final draft? Mmm, maybe you need to get a better grip on the reins. Do you know who all your important characters are? Do you know what their goals and motivations are? Do all those great scenes that spilled out have a place in your story? Do you have a lot of repeated word usage, or overused imagery that you need to change or cut out?
If so, it’s time to tighten those reins a bit. All that freedom to do what you want has to be traded in for the discipline of the rewrite. You’re doing arena work now, keeping focused on what the manuscript needs you to do, improving each paragraph the way a dressage horse improves the beauty of each move it makes.
Some people don’t want the restraint on their freedom. They want to just keep running headlong through their manuscript. They chafe at feedback that suggests change. Well, if you never want to publish a book that someone will want to buy, write it anyway you like. But just like me letting my mare trot sloppily into the show ring, you’ll never get the blue ribbon, or a book sale, that way.
So use the beauty of your creativity along with the discipline of your craft. And go and create something wonderful.
Meanwhile, I’m gonna go ride my horse.