Sunday, February 08, 2009

Getting Back on the Horse

When I was in eighth grade, my mother decided it would be a great idea to take me horse back riding. You know, fun mother-daughter type bonding.... we found out much later that we bond better over coffee and occasionally booze, but that’s another story.

Now, of course, my mother thought this would be fun, with a capitol “F”. I could think of another word with that letter...

See, here’s the difference, or one of them. My mom grew up in Michigan. She spent weekends at their cottage on a lake and summers at her grandparents’ farm, where she sicked a grouchy billy goat on her sister and rode the field horses bareback for amusement. She spent her childhood picking blackberries and all sorts of nature-like crap. No offense to the nature lovers, I’m just not one of you.

See, I, on the other hand, grew up in Cicero. I never rode a horse growing up... I never even saw a horse unless you count the stuffed pony they put me on to take one of those stupid cowboy pictures when I was three. We didn’t have horses or goats and the only lamb I ever saw was the one we served on Easter. I got a pair of ice skates one year for Christmas and laced the suckers up and tried ice skating on the pool in the backyard.... it was their own fault, I’d never been to an ice rink in my life and the stuff in the alley wasn’t nearly smooth enough to skate on. None of the kids in my neighborhood rode horses. We sledded off garage roofs, the really insane tried riding bikes off of them... and then they rode in ambulances... but no horses.

Does this lead up tell you how good my first time riding went?

My mom found this place to ride horses, but it was pretty apparent when we got there that this wasn’t just a nice simple ride, it was a riding lesson. To borrow from Erica’s Demon Baby, craptastic!

I don’t remember much about the lesson as a whole. There were a good many other riders, most of whom owned their horses and were (gee, ya think?) far more skilled than I. I remember the girl on the horse in front of mine, because she had full riding gear, the horse was her own, and she was more than a little on the snotty side. I, on the other hand, was wearing jeans, converse and a CYO jacket (Catholic Youth Organization – gee, could I have advertised my lack of wasp-y-ness any better?)

Oh yeah, and I remember that girl’s horse kicking my horse... and flying... oh, and landing...ya, boy, I remember landing.

Here’s the funny thing, okay, the flying and landing bit was probably funny too. The instructor’s panicked voice was only a dim hum, somewhere in the background of my head. By the time she’d finished saying something about coming back to the office to sit out the lesson and get checked out, I was already back on the horse. I don’t even know how the hell I got on the horse, because I was short enough that I needed to use a little stool to get on the first time.

So why the hell did I do that? I’d like to say it was to show the smug girl (who by the way, didn’t look so smug after that... in retrospect, she was probably horrified that her horse kicked mine). But that’s not why. I remember why – I wasn’t friggin’ finished.

I have to tell you, the horse listened better to me, too – though maybe he just felt bad for me, because I was so clearly out of my depth.

I’ve been horseback riding a number of times since then – my favorite was the time we went in Sedona... though someone should have told me that horses like to roll on their backs after getting wet, you know, before we rode through a river... Still, the view was worth a very bruised leg.

Obviously, the moral of the story is that I have bad luck around horses... but it’s not.

In writing, you hear a lot about perseverance. We talk about how the writers who make it to publication are the ones who won’t give up, keep knocking on doors and improving. That’s all true. You hear about the random authors who get a deal on their first query, but mostly it’s the ones plugging away, with two or three books under the bed and many years at it. Two or three out of print when they find a following... it’s the long haul writers who make it where they’re going... just like anything else in life – determination and stick-to-it-iveness.

Lately, I’ve been hitting that wall – you guys know the one, most of you have hit it at one time or another. Nothing’s popping. I can see improvements, don’t get me wrong, but.... eh... improvements aren’t the same as successes. And I wondered, for about a second, why I’m still going.

Because I’m not flippin’ finished yet.

I don’t think I know who I’d be without it.

How about you guys? Who would you be if you weren’t a writer? What’s your second favorite dream? How’d you get over the wall?


Mary Witzl said...

Merry, I promise to come right back after I get over that wall and tell you all about it. Right now all I can say is that it is grey and very high and made of some pretty dense stuff.

Love the horseback-riding analogy, though. I'm not finished yet either.

Travis Erwin said...

Hey I think we're riding the same horse. Thanks for the reminder that I'm not alone out on the trail.

Realmcovet said...

Good post Merry. Btw, love your new default pic, even though I am a HUGE Tom n Jerry fan. :)

I've had trouble getting over that wall too y'know. I got another rejection letter, and all I could say on Twitter was that I was gonna go shove a potato up my ass, I was so bummed. But I expected it in a way, I just needed an outlet, I s'pose. But good ol' Travis, he cheered me up. He nonchalantly replies, "That gives a whole new meaning to Hash Browns", something like that. It made me giggle in an untimely manner, and got me outta my misery momentarily.

I guess I'd be a renegade wizard if I didn't write. Either that or a therapist.

You're right though Merry. We don't give up. We keep on trying and muddle through the doubts and rejections and come out a stronger person for it.

Thanks for the encouragement, cause I ain't flippin done either!!! :)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary,

There's no doubt it's dense - and sometimes I feel like I'm digging at it with a tea spoon when it would be much easier to find a ladder to climb over the sucker.

Damn right, you're not finished. I plan on being in the line to get your first novel :-)

Hi Travis,

Maybe our horses are kindred spirits. It's nice to be on the trail with you, though, Travis... it's always good to have someone to remind you to keep the horse's head up after crossing the river.

Hey Realm,

The Tom and Jerry pic. stopped working - it was showing up as a blank box with an 'x' on it... and on my settings it was showing up as not working, so I changed it with one I had saved on my computer. I had a calvin and hobbes one, but it was too fuzzy as an avatar.

Now, a renegade wizard is a pretty cool secondary career choice :-) But I'm glad you're not flippin' finished yet, either.

jjdebenedictis said...

Great post! I've been feeling a bit blah about my progress lately, so it's really uplifting to hear a story of someone else's tenacity. Makes me remember to just keep going.

Can I pick renegade wizard too? That sounds awesome!

moonrat said...


Erica Orloff said...

Hmmm . . .

I have been so exhausted with having a month or so of pneumonia, that writing-wise . . . not so inspired.

But I know it'll turn around. It always does. I'm trying not to force the issue. ;-)

As for what I would do as a back-up? I am so ill-suited to an office. So I would say I would have liked to have been an astronomer or a midwife.


Merry Monteleone said...

Hey JJ,

And here I thought I was just whining... I'm glad it helped.

Three renegade wizards... imagine the things we could do...

Hi Moonie,

And how.

Hi Erica,

Astronomer sounds kind of cool - I definitely couldn't do the midwife thing... I couldn't do it without the drugs, I'd hate to make someone else do it that way :-)

Ello said...

Merry this is a great post! Really great post. and I love your analogy.

I'm not much of a nature loving person myself.

Speaking of finished. I finished the revisions... would you happen to have any time?

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Ell,

That's because we're city girls... some of us can find the beauty in concrete and pavement... or maybe I just don't like bugs.

Yay, you, on finishing the revisions so quickly!!! I just sent you an email, but send the full anytime - I can't wait to read it.

Angela Williams Duea said...

Awesome analogy. I'm not flippin finished yet, either. In fact, I'm just about to go off to the AWP Chicago writer's conference.

If I wasn't a writer? I can't think of anything else, unless it involved lots of beaches and tropical drinks, and maybe my own yacht. What is the name of that job?

spyscribbler said...

Aw, Merry, I love this post! Like Erica, I trust it will come back. I don't know what else to do, LOL. It's the only thing that makes me feel alive, at the moment.

But if I didn't write, I'd probably be performing more.

Shelly said...

Sometimes when I get a rejection, I will tell one of my friends, and she always says, "Congratulations." She isn't just being funny — it's also that the more rejections we live through, the closer we are to doing it right.

jerseygirl89 said...

That was a great post.

I'm still afraid to call myself a writer. But I can't call myself a teacher anymore, either. How about lottery winner and philanthropist?

Chris Eldin said...

Merry, I will use a 'trying to get pregnant' analogy--because the ultimate goal is your baby, right?
I think the harder you try to force it, the more it won't work, or won't feel natural.
This is just me, but I NEVER sit down to write at the computer unless I know what I want to say, even if it's vague. I don't write more than 700 words at a time (this would be a good day).
I write in my head while walking, driving, in the shower, etc.....
I've never hit the wall. Now, there have been days when I don't write a thing. On paper. But the writing is in my head......

Not sure if this helps, but I think you should allow yourself some play time with your story. And everyone is different, maybe the way I operate would be harmful for you, but I really like it.

You have lots of support and friends behind you, and I saw what you did with Raskin's Wings edit on EA. That was awesome!!!! Editing counts too!!!!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Angela,

What is the name of that job?

Lady of Leisure... that's a good second choice...:-)

Hi Spy,

That's a good choice, I'd love to hear you perform... you should put an audio clip up on your blog.

Hi Shelly,

it's also that the more rejections we live through, the closer we are to doing it right.

Theoretically, I agree. It gets a little easier to swallow after a few publications, though... not so easy after years of submissions and not a single yes.

Hey Jersey,

Ohhhh, Lottery Winner Philanthropist... mmmmm... that one's giving renegade wizare a run for its money!

Hi Chris,

Thank you for the support. Really, I do appreciate it. The wall I was talking about isn't so much the writing. I'm improving, I can see that. It's with the publishing, which I'm no closer to now than I was five years ago as far as I can tell.

EA's was nice because there was feedback - I can edit with direction - it was a massive improvement, too. But that same opening had been read by at least twenty sets of eyes, had been revised, I don't know how many times....

After the last rejection, which I took harder than I probably should have, I put it away because I knew something was wrong with it. Still like the story - so I think that's the guage - it's worth fixing if the story is sound.

I'm going to give it one last really good edit and shove it back into the query pool.

It's a hard business, and it's not going to get any easier. Sometimes it's just fucking discouraging. Not the writing part. The rejections.