Friday, November 25, 2005

Day 25: Steering the horse

Years ago a Zen Master I know used a curious metaphor to describe the antsy feeling Zen students often feel during the last days of a long retreat. "You can't steer a horse," he remarked, "that's headed back to the barn."

The metaphor is an apt one. In the final days (or hours) of a retreat, your mind is focused on what you want to do after the retreat. The freedom of "The End" is so vivid, you can nearly taste it. Like Elvis leaving the building, you can feel your spirit moving onto "what's next." Instead of relishing the last days or moments of the retreat at hand, your thoughts race ahead to the future: what will I do tomorrow, the next day, the day after that?

Writing the last ten thousand words of my So-Called Novel feels a bit like steering a horse that's headed back to the barn. My head is looking forward to the end of NaNoWriMo: my head is looking forward to the feedbag called "Anything Else But This." After working on my So-Called Novel for nearly a month, I don't feel any closer to understanding the story or its characters; instead, I'm feeling a bit bored trying to get "inside" their heads.

Knowing that "done" is only about 7,000 words away, my mind is starting to wander, making it more difficult to crank out words. Either I'm tired of this project, I'm tired from too much Thanksgiving feasting, or some combination of the two. Whereas last year I was giddily overjoyed to reach 50,000 words and "The End," this year I'm feeling like I'll merely mutter "Good riddance" when I reach the magic number.

Whereas writing the first half of a So-Called Novel is exciting--anything is possible, and setting out on wild and woolly tangents seems invigorating and adventurous--writing the second half feels more like work. Suddenly you're having to rein in that adventurous spirit as you try to figure out how to tie up those wild and woolly tangents. Whereas the first half of a So-Called Novel involves letting your horses run wild in a pasture, the second half means harnessing them up and bringing 'em back home.

Right now, this narrative horse feels sway-backed and tired...and I'm looking forward to heading her toward the barn where she can eat and rest up for a while.
Word-count: 43,150

Last line: Alexa wished Paul would come straight out
for once and say what he meant rather than talking in circuitous riddles.


At 11/26/2005 1:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's up with this? you didn't end with a question this time? You REALLY must be headed back to the barn!

funny how you say "thinking about the next thing" keeps you from truly experiencing the "right this moment thing", because I was just arguing with myself on a similar line of thought. I'm off work for a week, and instead of taking a deep breath and relishing the moment, instead, I keep finding myself worrying about the pile that will be there waiting for me when I get back. Yes, I've scolded myself several times, and am trying to focus on RIGHT NOW.

Hearing you say that you see the end in sight is awe-inspiring ... of course, I expected nothing less from you (surely you agree you have a tendency to put some rather stiff parameters on what is acceptable behavior as far as your own accountability is concerned), but still, hearing that the end is looming nearby makes me have that much more faith in the process.

You are living proof that someone who is determined to see something through from start to finish merely needs to create a plan, and then work the plan diligently (with time off for good advance planning, as needed). Excellent progress, lorianne. Absolutely excellent. You rock.


At 11/27/2005 11:46 AM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Well, I don't know if I *rock*, but I'll smile & try to take the compliment... ;-)

Actually, the fact that I didn't end with a question this time is more indicative of *where* I wrote that blog-post (in a coffee shop with distracting music) than anything else. After posting, I realized I'd forgotten the usual "what do you think" tagline, but by then my Inner Horse was ready to leave, so I did.

I guess there are many ways that restlessness manifests itself, whether it's ending a big project or just leaving to go home for the day.

At 11/27/2005 12:58 PM, Blogger Rebecca Clayton said...

Hey, here's another reason this sort of writing is scarier than technical writing: I never had to go more than 25,000 words without feedback from another human. Even when the feedback is "A monkey could have written this" from a prominent and rude molecular geneticist, or "This sucks" from my major professor, it gives you someone else to be mad at, and it gives you a break in the process.

My grandfather used to sleep in the buggy on the way home from Saturday night dances. A horse that doesn't need steering is a good friend to have. Ride on!

At 11/27/2005 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I do so love this site, but could you hurry up and get back to HO, as I'm starting to have withdrawal symptoms!

I hope you had a happy turkey day!

from an ordinary reader :)

we can be such demanding creatures!

At 11/27/2005 5:19 PM, Blogger Devon Ellington said...

It's weird -- now that the NaNo pressure is off, the story's flowing better, and I feel that the second half of the piece is better than the first for me.

NaNo, in general has been a strange experience for me.

At 11/30/2005 7:58 AM, Blogger leslee said...

When we were in Mexico and on the return run of a long hike, happy to be getting back, our guide told us, "No hay burro flojo en el regreso" - there's no lazy burro on the trip home. See, you just need a different metaphor - you know you're on the home stretch so it should look easier! Okay, maybe it doesn't work so well for NaNo! Best of luck with the final steps. You're almost home!


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