By: Callie Walker
The visiting poet, Nikky Finney, told our class that we must sit in the saddle, keep hold of the reins, and finish the race. We’d heard the advice to “just keep writing” from professors, peers, and other notable writers, of course, but it took this poet’s metaphor to help me understand all that “just keep writing” entailed. I don’t know about jockeys, but I’d found it extremely difficult to stay in the saddle until crossing the finish line. I had a tendency to begin piece after piece but never found the tenacity to stick with one through completion.
She said we must stay in the saddle even if what we produced turned out to be the worst writing ever written: not just our own personal worst. She told us with confidence that if we put our feet in the irons and held on tight, we’d discover that on the other side of the finish line we would be better writers.
While the dreadlocked poet continued to explain all the bits of truth her metaphor chomped down on, I envisioned myself sitting at my desk later that day, my hands hovering over the black and white, seemingly random alphabet . . .
See a young woman sitting at her dorm room desk, her fingers punching away at her laptop’s keyboard. Watch this pudgy jockey with the golden Mohawk urge her horse around the track with each keystroke. Typing words across the digital piece of paper gives her the thrill she needs in order to attempt her biology homework due the following day.
As the race continues, watch as this woman’s smile fades. Note the way she begins to squirm in her seat. Don’t think for one minute that she is going to let the empty Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee cup trip her up. She is here with a mission: stay in the saddle until the last word, followed by the final mark of punctuation, is on the page. Can she do it? Can she set her horse down enough to reach the wire in a timely manner?
Let’s return when she’s coming down the home stretch.
In a career best, see her type the final period into place. Cautiously tread toward her and watch the woman make a victory lap back to the top of the ten-page story. Note that her aforementioned squirm no longer worries her while, in the reflection of the screen, notice her smile has returned.
Hear her proclaim, “I posted my first win in dozens of starts!”
Step back and observe this college senior who has followed sage advice. Do not read the words on the page because they will not give a clue to her real talent (that comes through revision). Furthermore, do not bother yourself with the puddle on the floor beneath her dorm room chair, for this young woman has crossed the finish line atop her trusty steed and is now, most assuredly, a better writer.