by D. Avery
Charli Mills has welcomed me to the ranch but does she know that it’s a steel horse I ride? It’s likely she doesn’t care what any of us ride, is simply happy to have us ride for the ranch, but when I was in the saddle today it came to me that riding a motorcycle and writing are not so different.
‘Cars are cages’ say the patches on the leather jackets; motorcycles symbolize freedom. On a motorcycle you are out there, riding raw, having to be more observant and reactive and aware of your surroundings. Writers too step outside of the confines and illusions of safety, to take the world in and interact with it on a more intimate and immediate level. Both activities are often perceived as risky and challenging; writing is both. But with riding, there are ways to minimize risk, which may apply to writing.
Bikers know that speed does not necessarily reflect skill. We get better by attending to form first, through practice. Bikers know that the bike will go where you point your head, so we are ever mindful of the cardinal caveat, to look ahead, to look through the turns. You need to be aware of the pavement right in front of your wheel, to see that while not fixating on it, while looking ahead at the same time. You need to simultaneously read the pavement, the traffic, the context of the road; in town, is a car door likely to open on you, out of town, a moose to lumber out of the woods? Riding is like keeping track of the details and the big picture simultaneously while you swoop through your writing, anticipating problems and adjusting as you go. Just keep a relaxed grip on the handlebar so you don’t over-steer. Maintain your momentum and look and lean through those twisties, bringing your story safely through to the straightaway.
Skillful riders make slow speed maneuvering, as well as high speed cornering, look easy and graceful. They smoothly brake or shift to maintain momentum at any speed; they find the appropriate pace for the conditions and context of their ride. They practice their riding skills, they build experience; they even get help from other riders. Lone riders can find mentors in print, and while reading about riding is not actual experience, it certainly prepares one to get more out of riding, to know what to be mindful of and to be fortified with advice for when one does encounter the realities of the road. Soon after reading David Hough’s motorcycle safety books I took my first solo road trip. I encountered just about everything he had written about, from the oil slicks in the rain to the lumber in the road, to the inexplicably angry redneck in the truck. I recognized the hazards and reacted appropriately to them because I had read about them. With further experience these encounters are less dramatic and reacting is more automatic and ingrained. In writing terms, I have practiced, and have honed my craft. But starting out, it was helpful to have the advantage of others’ experience, knowing what to anticipate.
Riding with others is also beneficial to skill building. One time, riding with friends, having pulled off to gas up and have a snack, we all noted the mileage on our odometers and to our amusement, none of us showed having traveled the exact same distance, with Jim coming in at the lowest. “I pick better lines”, he said. It was funny, but he was the most experienced rider, so I seriously watched him as we rode on. Because not only is it fun to ride with friends, it is an opportunity to learn tricks and techniques, to see how others tackle the same road as you. If someone has good form, watch and learn. But of course, ride your own ride, as they say. Know when to set your own pace and to make your own calls. You do not have to ride with people that do not feel safe to your ride. And if you don’t want to slow down for your group, you may want to ride with a different group or solo. Know your strengths and own your ride. And yes, we are of course still talking about writing, though I have never written with an offline group.
Riding in a group, to be safe, requires respect and road etiquette of the members. But group riding provides a risk reduction through increased visibility. But what do people see? Do they see a rebellious gang, both intriguing and intimidating? A group of risk-taking outsiders that they secretly wish to join? Riders or writers, with or without a cause, from the inside it feels good to be with people that ‘just get it’. We are bikers or writers because it’s what we do.
Writers and riders set out on adventures where anything could happen, their common goal to keep upright and between the ditches. How does one keep a two-wheeled steed upright? The same as you keep your story upright. Find that sweet spot of friction and momentum that keeps the contact patch humming with the road; the tension and pacing and rhythm of your words will keep your story from drifting or from skidding out of control. Practice and attitude will serve you well; envision the desired outcome. I remember an article in a women riders’ magazine about ‘riding it out’. Many riders have held the belief that dropping the bike is a legitimate and even inevitable strategy. In this article, the author suggested we visualize a more positive outcome when encountering a hazard, that we imagine riding it out instead of laying it down. We practice so that we can apply our skills and experience and will to recover from the patch of gravel; to making that quick swerve or quick stop to avoid the deer or the pothole. Similarly, you can bring all your skills and imagination to bear in your writing. You will hit rough patches; you can revise, you can choose a new line. But don’t lay it down. I never plan to, but when I ride I do wear the helmet and Kevlar in case I get knocked down, which is easier than donning the thick skin that writers must sometimes to withstand knockdowns and abrasions. Suit up, be prepared, and have fun. Go for it.
We are out there, vulnerable and exposed. We are out there, having a blast powering through turns, in the wind, being the wind. We are outside of our cages. We explore new roads, applying and building the skills and experience gained on familiar roads. We enjoy the ride. We write on.
D. Avery is from New England and teaches middle school. She is the author of two books of poems, Chicken Shift, and For the Girls. She blogs and writes fiction at Shiftnshake where she archives all her Ranch Yarns.
Raw Literature returns as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A wonderfully written piece, D. Thank you for sharing your riding experiences and your writing experiences. Let’s all stay outside of our cages. And let’s write on…
Rubber side down and between the ditches.
All rides welcome to pass through the Ranch, cage-free range for writers. 🙂
Great post, D (and lovely to see your face at last!). While I like your analogy, I feel much much safer writing than on a motorbike (although, to be fair, I’ve never had the chance to take the controls).
Ha! Ain’t much of a face. Read the literature; statistically, writing is far more dangerous than riding. You people are nuts.
Perhaps humor writing is dangerous D. — might slip on a banana peel. Glad to welcome you to the can of nuts!
both are experiences that require a certain level of trust, respect, and willingness to take a leap
A leap? Now I’m thinking Evil Kinevil with his jumps. Hmm. ..
Aim for the Grand Canyon, then take the time to process and prepare.
Dear Charli Mills,
Thank you for publishing my piece. It is a thrill and an honor to be a part of your ranch and to write for the Raw Lit series.
I do want to express my concerns with the photo that you have used to accompany my essay. While it would appear a tempting stretch of tar for getting one’s motor running, it should also be noted that it is the exact sort of road that might incite random (and not so random) crossings by chickens. As you know, that is a grave hazard to both hen and hell raiser. In the future, please be more sensitive and exercise more caution in this regard.
Dear D. Avery,
Thank you for expressing your concerns. Be assured no hens or hell-raisers were harmed in the posting of this essay. All views (of the road) are fictional and monitored by the Chicken Temperance Society. We appreciate your submission and hope you know we paired your words with photos completely responsibly.
Chicken Lovin’ Charli
Reblogged this on ShiftnShake and commented:
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’… got my two wheels rollin’…
Keep them doggies rollin’…rawhide!
Hubby used to ride in his younger daze. After taking a rock to his visor one day from a truck… well that was enough he says.
I can’t imagine any rider not wanting to wear proper gear. I can’t imagine writing without the proper gear either. Let imagination reign.
Nuts…. yep. I think any writer has to be nuts to some degree. Perhaps a different kind of honorific badge saying ‘I survive’ –
Stay safe on the road and keep writing the lines 🙂
I liked how D. explains her methodology, studying those with the best line, reading to be prepared and watching how she can implement what she’s learned.
As for your hubby — yikes! So glad he had the proper gear. Writers don’t take rocks to the head, but we have to be tough and prepared, too.
Yes — “Let imagination reign. “
“Find that sweet spot of friction and momentum that keeps the contact patch humming with the road; the tension and pacing and rhythm of your words will keep your story from drifting or from skidding out of control. Practice and attitude will serve you well; envision the desired outcome.”
Wow. That sentence…
(Looks up and over the handlebars of her Big Wheel…)
I love Big Wheels! But they lead to harder bikes.
Never quite made the transition…lol. Vroooom!
Never too late. You know how it is putting your hand out the open car window, holding it up in the wind? You could be that hand. With a helmet, of course.
Ooh. That sensation of the hand riding the wind almost convinces me. 😮
Wow…the call to be the hand! I get that feeling standing on the edge of a mesa or stepping into the frigid waves of Lake Superior.
I loved that sentence (and its message), too! Ride on!
Reblogged this on Die Erste Eslarner Zeitung – Aus und über Eslarn, sowie die bayerisch-tschechische Region!.
Another writing analogy to add to all of Charli’s. What isn’t like riding a bike? Okay, I know a motorbike! What a great post with lots of sensible advice. Your love/hate/fear/humble attitude to writing comes through loud and clear, but it shows clearly too that determination and practice will find a way. Winner!
Being a retired bike rider I empathise and agree with all you say and I can definitely see the analogy between bike riding and writing. As a bike rider the biggest buzz I had was the day a car came out from a side road and hit me knocking me sideways to the road. I could have kissed the tarmac before pulling the bike up and putting it in a downwards trajectory to the road on the other side. This continued with the road a little further away each time until I was left standing on the wrong side of the road several hundred yards up from where I’d been hit. There was some luck involved – no car was coming down the hill. It was also the first day I’d ever had a pillion passenger behind but luckily she was a catatonic type of person and didn’t react – she just went with it. But it also showed me I could ride. Really ride.
Having read your post I can see that the enjoyment of the ride is the writing, taking the risks is putting it out there for others to see, being knocked off when rejected by publishers but getting straight back on for that moment of high elation when you get a nice or helpful comment, when you win a competition or get published.
Riding /writing at the ranch makes the journey full of companionship, tips on skills and you know you aren’t out there alone on the road. That has also happened to me but that is another story.
Right on for staying upright! You must have had some good tread and good reactions. Yikes! I’ve never been hit but have ridden out a close one now and again. All good. I was stranded once with a flat and another biker stopped and took me aboard, so there I was the on the high pillion of a crotch rocket, clinging to a helmeted stranger. Bikers take care of their own. The analogy continues…