I took a riding lesson this week, for the first time in over a year. Horses are how I deal with stress, and I have two of them (Magnum, an aging chestnut goofball with a white heart on his forehead, and Journey, a massive elephant of a bay gelding who melts into an overgrown puppy dog at the first sign of a belly scratch).
But usually, I ride alone. A riding lesson is something else altogether: there is somebody on the ground watching you the entire time, pointing out the things you’re doing wrong.
And boy, can I do a lot of things wrong!
For me, jumping into a new round of revisions with my editor is kind of like taking a riding lesson. You take this thing that you love doing, this thing that makes you happy and decreases your stress, and you ask someone else to look at it. And that someone else, without batting an eye, points out all your mistakes, all your obvious faults and glaring lapses of judgment. Suddenly, your happy place becomes cringe-worthy and you want to hide out in the barn, or the writing office, and not come out until you can be sure nobody’s watching.
My riding instructor gave me lots of advice this week in my lesson (“Knees in! Tighten that stomach! Head up! Look where you’re going! Keep that stomach strong! Shoulders back! I should be able to punch you in the stomach and feel STEEL, Sarah!”), but the piece of advice that sticks with me outside the lesson is this: “Project your energy forward!” You won't get anywhere if you're too busy looking down at the ground. Or back over your shoulder.
On my desk, I have another round of notes from my editor waiting for my attention. The pages are peppered with guidance. (“Not sure what this means.” “Clunky.” “Doesn’t make sense.” “Reader will question this, Sarah.”) Sometimes it's hard for me to look at these notes and not feel like a terrible writer for making the same mistakes again and again. Both my riding instructor and my editor are highly skilled and kind of scary observant. It’s hard to show these women, whom I greatly admire, the depths of the mistakes I am capable of making.
But when I’m finished with a riding lesson, I’ve got sore abs and achy knees ... and a sense of accomplishment that carries me through a week of riding alone until my next lesson. And when I’m finished with a round of revisions, I’ve got a tired brain and a deskful of dirty coffee cups and a sense of strong writing that carries me through the first draft of my next novel.
As I mount up, I find myself repeating Stephanie’s advice: “Project your energy forward.” So I keep my eyes between Journey's ears instead of looking down at my position or over my shoulder at yesterday's mistakes. And when I sit down at the computer, I find myself repeating it again: “Project your energy forward.” So I look toward the final page instead of thinking about changes I've already made.
Forward is good direction to face. Ahead, there are blank pages and open fields and a lot of beautiful possibilities.