It is a truth universally acknowledged that in order to become good at something, one must spend a long, long time being very bad at it.
My summers are spent largely on running day and overnight camps for horsey kids and kids-at-heart. This year, I wanted to try something new, so I dug out an old recurve bow (homemade with PVC pipe – a surprisingly great starter bow!) and investigated mounted archery.
Turns out, it’s really hard to hit a target from the back of a moving horse.
Or, if you haven’t seriously shot a bow in over twenty years and have dubious hand-eye coordination… hard to hit the target at all. I was woefully bad. Embarrassingly bad. Certainly not accurate enough to demonstrate in front of a dozen campers. But it was somehow still fun; addictive, even. I was pretty sure the kids would love it. I also kept thinking how excellent the Dragon would be at mounted archery, and how she’s reached that stage of elderly where every year is a gift and not everything can wait until tomorrow.
So I practiced. Just in stolen moments, a few minutes a day, usually waiting for the horses to finish their dinner. I earned blisters and bruises and managed to completely lose two arrows in a pasture. I’m not sure what the neighbors thought about the thirty-year-old walking around the fields with riding breeches rolled up to the knee and a bow made out of plumbing pipe. I was terrible and then I was terrible some more and then one day every single one of my arrows made it into the hay bales and then eventually some even hit dead center.
Fast forward two months. I’m still not that great and still hopeless at notching an arrow on horseback, but I can at least hit the target while stationary or moving. Camps have come and gone and my patient Dragon has ferried dozens of eager archers back and forth across the yard (at a sedate walk, of course). While a few come equipped with previous archery experience, most of them are shooting for the first time.
When you introduce a new skill to someone, you know they will not master it right away. They know they will not master it right away. It’s always interesting to me how different people respond to this. Often it becomes a challenge: you can see the spark of determination kindling in them as they ask if they can have another try. Sometimes they find it fun whether their arrow hits the target or a tree. But occasionally they will tell me that they will never be good at it, because they are not naturally talented or skillful now. Lately I find myself wanting to tell them to embrace being bad at it. To ENJOY being bad at it. Because it’s where everything starts.
This something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I began the long process of rewriting Project Warhorse. The first book in this trilogy was my first love and the first novel I ever completed. It’s a story I’ve nurtured in some form for eighteen years now. And I still love it for the same reasons I did then – but as every revision brings me closer and closer to the emotional truth I want to live in it, the actual manuscript looks less and less like the book I started out with. I was proud of those early drafts when I wrote them, but when I look at them now, I can see the ways in which I’ve grown and changed as a writer since then. My words are hitting their bullseye a little more frequently now.
It’s terribly exciting, knowing that developing craft is a journey that never ends.
This week the first page of my favorite weird warhorse story is online, in the agent round for #FicFest alternates. I was thrilled to be named to Team Italy (especially considering I only found out about the contest a few days about the deadline!) and while I’m outwardly trying to be cool about it, inwardly I’ve been turning cartwheels at this shiny little milestone. Even if nothing comes of it, it feels like new scenery on the long road to publishing – and no matter how long it takes, no matter how books I have to write or how many times I have to take a deep breath, aim and fire, I’m on this one for the long haul.
Huge thanks to mentors Jessica and Ashley for their kind words and mad query letter skills, to organizer Tiffany Hofmann for putting everything together, and to the Twitter community for being full of awesome, as always. The world is full of some seriously nice and some seriously talented writers, and I can’t WAIT to see everyone’s stories in print someday.
Here’s to beautiful beginnings.