Don't Think. It Can Only Hurt the Ball Club.

We had a chance to take a last-minute trip last week, to Ireland. When we were lucky enough to go two years ago, I had plenty of advance notice. That meant I checked out the six-disc audio book on Ireland’s history, signed us up for online Irish lessons, collected movies on Irish culture, and basically created a home school Irish program with which to torture my children.

This trip, there was no time for any of that, so I tried a quick review.

Me to Boy: What do you remember about Irish history?

Boy to Me: Hmmm. Well, when they weren’t fighting everybody else, they were trying to kill each other.

Me: Good enough. Let’s go!

So with that and a Dia dhuit, we were on our way. And you know what? We had a great time.  Maybe we didn’t see every castle and museum in a 25-mile radius of where we were staying, but we saw enough, and we had fun.

My husband booked a trail ride for me. The day I was supposed to go, it poured. Absolute buckets. So the instructor suggested we do a private lesson inside.  She asked if I’d ridden before (I had) and wanted to know what I’d done.  And about fifteen minutes later, she was saying things like

Instructor: “Okay!  Pick up the canter at the letter F!”

Me: “I haven’t cantered in years!”

Instructor: “That’s great!  Canter now, please!”

And so it went.  Every time I said I hadn’t done something in years, she would give a perky reply and tell me to get on with it, and in no time at all I found myself facing a two-foot jump.  Which doesn’t SOUND very high, but when you are sitting on top of a large animal and you’ve just realized there’s no seat belt, it’s more than high enough.

But here’s the thing:  My brain was making little gabbling noises in the back of my head, but my body remembered.  My body was saying things like “Shut up. We can do this,” and shortening reins and lifting my butt out of the seat. And when I shut down my brain and just moved, didn’t think, everything went surprisingly well.

As writers, we live a ridiculous amount of time in our heads. For me, that means not just when I’m writing, but when I’m living, too — I’m always analyzing everything, teasing apart whatever meaning could be hidden in a conversation, a glance, a silence. This habit can get in the way — of creating, of relationships, of simply living. Sometimes, we need to tell our brains to shut up and get out of the way.  It’s a lesson I need to be reminded of again and again, and when I am, whether by design or by accident, I’m always amazed at how present I feel, how sharp everything seems, and often, how much fun I (and those around me) manage to have.

Tell me — how does your brain get in the way? And what are your tricks for shutting it down?

Tall horse

Liz Michalski


  1. Jan O'Hara on November 19, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    This is one reason I attend dance class. I feel better after, of course, but if I don’t turn off my brain and pay attention, I could physically endanger people, including myself. At the same time, it’s joyful and freeing. So it requires presence and flexibility and self-trust, none of which come easily to me, all of which make me a better mom, partner, and writer.

    I’m so glad that you went and gave into the spontaneity. What I want to know, though, is whether you want both types of holidays in the future, or if this experience changed your expectations? (Don’t feel obliged to answer!)

  2. liz on November 19, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Jan, the self-trust part is so key. My favorite instructor used to always tell me I was a much better rider than I thought I was, if I could only trust myself. But it is such a hard (and good) skill to develop.

    I like the trips where I have lots of advance notice and can plan everything to within an inch of its life — although I think I’m more relaxed (and more relaxing to be around) when I get hit with a surprise adventure!

  3. Vaughn Roycroft on November 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

    So I think I told you that I’ve sent off book one to be read. I made some of the greatest changes yet (hopefully effective ones) in the last revision. If I asked ten people what I should do while I wait, I’m pretty sure eight or more would say something along the lines of: “Start revising book two.” No-brainer, right?

    Well, sure as sure as the need for cleanup after a parade with livestock, Resistance (Pressfield’s resistance with a capital R) has hit me full-force. I’ve done character analysis, GMC chart, re-read my editor’s notes, even spent three days cleaning up my leaves (necessary, but still). Everything but open the damn doc and get to work. Now leaves or done, notes are in a neat stack on desk. The time has come to canter and then to face the jump. If I don’t do it now, my mount sense my Resistance and will balk. I’ll probably fall.

    What do I do to overcome it? Just did it. Read my friend’s great post on the issue. Thanks. Opening doc in three, two, one…

  4. liz on November 21, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Vaughn, I’m wishing you the best of success with book one. And I think you’ve earned some mental time off!

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