#125: The Cowboy and the Herd

There’s an aspect of working on the plot and structure of a story that make me feel like a cowboy.

Not a nameless dusty renegade, mind you. More a ranch hand trying to steer a herd of cattle. You have to know where you’re going, whether it’s out to pasture or back to the corral, but even when you do you can only move the herd indirectly. You get it going by sweeping behind it and coming along the sides on your trusty steed. You circle left to make the herd move right, circle right to make it go left. You might need to round up a stray calf and help it back to the herd, but you don’t fight the herd. You’re just a dude on a horse, after all. The herd is much more powerful. The herd can run you over. You get the herd to go where you want by helping it want to go to the same place.

But then there’s the work of the actual writing, the fugue state where the words are coming out one after the other. That’s when you’re the herd itself, when you’re some force of nature and raw animal power. No thoughts, just tonnage and pure motion. It runs but if it runs wild, runs unguided for too long, it may disperse, or stop altogether.

Use whatever analogy you will: A cowboy and a farm’s stock, Poseidon and the Sea, a Jedi and the Force, the conscious and the subconscious. A mighty source of energy and magic at the hands of an easily fallible being. The great struggle of creative work and life is getting these two parts of yourself to want the same thing.

I’ve been on the horse for these last some weeks, pardna. I’ve been trying to round up all the strays. But the herd, it’s finally together again, moving in one direction now. Time to let it run.