Getting the Mojo Back

flyinghorse_200Sometimes the mojo goes away.

Maybe it’s taken away–by a bad teacher, a sudden or chronic illness, a financial or career reversal. Or maybe what used to be easy has become impossibly hard: confidence fails, doubts proliferate, fears mount. What if I’ve given all I have to give? What if I’ll never get past where I am now? What if I’ve peaked, and that’s it?

That’s a scary place to be, as either a horse person or a writer. With horses, doubts and fears can lead to broken bones and worse. In writing, the ability to put words together slides away, and the block that results (despite all the Holding Forth about lazy shiftless no-account blockees) is crippling.

And sometimes the two go together. Can’t ride for fear of making a mistake. Can’t write because all the words are worthless. Then they don’t come at all.

That sums up the past going on ten years for me. I’ve posted elsewhere about the writing issues, and elsewhere again about the horse issues. They happened around the same time, for a few of the same reasons, and had the same effect on my ability to do the two things that, essentially, I am.

It wasn’t a good time. But in the grand tradition of That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger, with the help of excellent friends and teachers, I seem to have come through, finally, to the other side.

It’s not a perfect happy ending. There’s a lot of fighting still to be done. Moments when I back off from riding a horse because I’m not sure I can. (Can’t, can’t, can’t.) Or when I go to work on the day’s writing quota and it’s all just word salad. Or no words at all.

Mojo reclamation is hard work. Even apart from all the righteous sorts who have never lost theirs and think it can’t possibily be lost (and therefore those who have lost it are either lazy or lying or both), the constant temptation to slide back down into the rut of “I can’t” can be dangerously irresistible.

With horses, that danger is literal and physical. Horses in general are patient teachers, and a good and trustworthy horse will do whatever it takes to keep her rider safe. But even Old Reliable is still a horse, and a gust of wind or a passing predator or the ghost of Horseasaurus Maximus can trigger instincts that need a calm and focused human to help damp them down.

Writing might not be as immediately threatening to life and limb, but if the words won’t come, then neither does the writing income–and even with backlist and ebooks and all the wonders of the new age, new words are still what keep the readers coming. Which only adds to the difficulty, because on top of fear of never finding the words again, is fear of not being able to pay the bills (and feed the horses and keep the farm).

All that’s really to be done is keep trying. Keep pushing. Hunt for the words. Fake the confidence with the horses–bury the fear deeply enough and keep the focus clear enough and the horse won’t pick it up. Then you might still be terrified, but you’re back in the saddle again, and you haven’t died–and each time you do it and walk away alive, takes you one step farther away from not being able to do it at all.

For me, taking it in small steps helped. Learning to do groundwork or bodywork if the riding wasn’t there. Finishing old writing projects if the new ones bounced me off hard, or trying a short piece when the long ones wouldn’t stay in my head. Collaborating with patient colleagues.

And above all, giving myself permission to be bad at it. To let the words  be crap. First draft doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be there. Good comes later, with the help of beta readers and editors.

Same with horses. No one ride or session will ever be perfect. It’s good to aim for perfection, but getting hung up on it to the point of not being able to ride at all is a bad thing.

It’s all right to have a crappy ride. Just aim for some sort of positive direction, and try to end on a decent or even slightly good note, and that does it for that one ride. The good notes add up. The bad ones start to become less numerous. Eventually, just as when your crappy words suddenly are in the tens of thousands and maybe they’re not really so crappy after all, your rides are more good than bad, and you’re not so horribly afraid any more.

It all comes together. The confidence creeps back. The mojo grows. It’s not the same as it was before. It’s slower, maybe, but deeper.

It’s also more patient, and more understanding of others (horses or riders or fellow writers) who may be suffering from loss of mojo themselves, or are just learning to find it in the first place. It makes for a better teacher and trainer, and a better reader as well as writer. Maybe you have a little more understanding for how others might not find life or words or work so easy–and you can write stronger characters, and train more challenging horses, and not crash into the wall (literally or figuratively) in either case.

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Getting the Mojo Back — 7 Comments

    • Yes. Thank you.

      One day we “wake up” and life isn’t quite as dismal. Then the next day–or month or year–it’s a bit better again.

      Keep building on the up rather than the down. Exhausting but worth it.

      • BVC is an excellent place with excellent people who have been there and done that and got together to make unique and ingenious t-shirts.

        Up is hard. Lots of work. Much easier to just go limp and fall down.

  1. So true. Get down a draft, it can always be a minus 5 draft, with four revisions before it can be a zero draft. (assuming zero plus one is the one you dare share.) Who’s gonna know?

    But minus five has to be there in all its stinky glory before wading in with fishing tackle, blowtorch, plumber’s helper, and a few hand grenades to begin on whacking it toward that zero…

  2. My drafts have always been firsts. They got made in the backbrain and constructed in prewriting, then there they were. Clean up, maybe add some bits, voila.

    The new lesson is to allow a draft to be a zero. Not freak out because it’s not “good” enough to be a first.