Maybe nobody puts Baby in a corner, but somebody put bloggie in a corner. That somebody would be me. Apologies off the blocks for calling my blog “bloggie.” I couldn’t help myself with that Dirty Dancing reference. But what’s three months between friends? My friend Brad shamed me into writing a post mach schnell.
My excuse is, hey, I didn’t have time to post because I was polishing my novel, the whole reason I have a blog in the first place. And I’m pleased to report that it’s done! I’m sending it to agents and editors. Don’t get me wrong, I realize there will be more revisions. But if I’m very lucky, the next round will come from an editor who has seen fit to publish Thrown!
Last weekend I had the pleasure of auditing a dressage clinic given by Jan Ebeling, the guy who rode Rafalca (Anne Romney’s mare, of Stephen Colbert foam-finger fame) in the London Olympics. This clinic was a dandy, because Mr. Ebeling was not only the expert one would expect of an Olympian, but was an effective, patient and gracious teacher. I wasn’t sure what to expect—sometimes I think trainers who are famous only want to work with advanced riders on very fancy, expensive horses—but Jan took each horse-and-rider partnership and made them better, no matter their level or natural talents.
As with many sports, you can’t help but touch on the basics, no matter what the exercise. With dressage, it’s rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness and collection (in that order). If those are in place, everything else is easy. I couldn’t help but link it to writing.
Take tempo, for instance. In dressage, tempo is the speed of the horse’s footfalls. In dressage, generally speaking, you want the tempo to be consistent within the gait you’re riding, especially if you’re in competition. In training, sometimes you want to vary the tempo within the gait, usually slowing it, then speeding up again. In writing, you want to vary the tempo–a steady tempo would be dull, although you want your story to move along at a nice pace.
Another parallel with tempo in both disciplines is, you often slow the tempo to execute a more difficult movement. In dressage, the tempo (or cadence) of the passage (a majestic, slow-motion trot) is slower than a “regular” trot. The tempo of the canter in a canter pirouette (the horse’s hind legs stay almost in the same spot, while the front legs describe a circle around them) is slower than a “working” canter because the horse has shifted much of his weight to his hind legs. Same with writing. Often, if you have an emotional scene, you slow down the tempo. You want to give it more impact, and give the reader time to absorb and experience it. If you have an action scene, you speed it up for similar reasons.
Then there’s connection, which in dressage has to do with the horse’s contact with the bit and the horse’s correct posture, which allows for balanced movement. In writing, I think of it as keeping the reader in mind—connecting with the audience. This encompasses things like keeping the characters true to themselves (don’t you hate it when you’re reading along, and you’re forced to say, “Huh? That character would NEVER willingly eat a sea urchin!”) and not bogging down the story with all the impressive research I may have done just because I find it fascinating.
Overall though, the main lesson in writing as in riding, is to have fun. Yes I know writing is hard, and so is riding. The best riders make it look like they’re just sitting there, not doing a thing, while the horse happily dances. Same with the best writers, who entertain us and move us so effortlessly, we don’t notice the writing because we are absorbed in the story. But honestly, I love doing both. In riding, there are days when I am so in tune with my horse that I can literally think what I want and the horse does it. In writing, it’s those days where the characters have come alive and are off and running, and I merely have to keep up and take notes—the scenes write themselves. It is easy. It is joyful. And I strive for this bliss every time I mount my horse or open my MacBook to write. I hope to do both for a very, very long time.
As always, thank you for your support.
Oh, and I’ll be guest posting for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog, “Chiseled in Rock,” on Wednesday, October 31. It’s about cheetahs and sloths. Feel free to stop by!