Changing Horses, Or Goals, Midstream by Julie Glover

You’re not supposed to do that, right? Change horses midstream.

That idiom comes from an 1864 campaign speech in which Abraham Lincoln referred to an old Dutch saying that one shouldn’t change horses right as they are crossing a stream. He was making a case for his reelection in the midst of the Civil War. The saying has caught on to mean that you should stay on track; keep the leader, the mission, the goals you started with.

That’s bunk.

Almost every round of ROW80, I have thrown out or altered one or more of my original goals. I have “changed horses midstream.” When is that a good idea?

Well, I am no horse lady, so you equestrians can flog me later if I write anything ignorant here. But it would seem to me that you should change horses if:

Your horse won’t budge. Week after week, you continue to put one of your goals on the list and not oncehave you reported any progress whatsoever on it. No matter how good your intentions are, that goal isn’t happening—no way, no how. Is your guilt over not completing that task getting in the way of your progress on other goals? Do you report in every week feeling like a half-empty champagne glass instead of a celebratory bottle of bubbly? Maybe this isn’t the round for that goal. It might be a fabulous goal that needs to cross the stream next time around. But right now, it ain’t budging, and it’s okay to set that one aside and get on another horse.

Your horse goes lame. I’ve seen enough westerns in which the tough cowboy held back the tears and shot his trusted horse because it had gone lame. It’s not easy to kill your beloved pal, but sometimes a project you started with has been worked and reworked and overworked until it’s broken and cannot be fixed. This is what happened to me in the last round, when I blogged about My Epic Failure. It was time to put my WIP out of its misery and move on. While my manuscript isn’t actually dead, it was limping, it needed time to heal, and I needed a break. I got on a new horse.

Your dream horse shows up. I’m not in favor of going down rabbit trails and abandoning your current WIP for the shiny new plot bunny that hopped over and demanded attention. Adopting that attitude can result in having a lot of half-finished projects and no completed books. However, during the course of a round, you might have an opportunity that you simply cannot turn down. Maybe it’s a writing competition, an online course, a conference invitation, or an absolutely perfect plot bunny that you can’t imagine putting back inside its cage. Whatever it is, think about whether this is the time and the goal you want; if so, put your old horse back in its stall, mount the new pretty horse, and ride. Seriously, who would turn down a chance to gallop on the back of a Kentucky Derby champion?

What you cannot do is give up on crossing the stream! Changing your goals is fine. Not making progress on your goals is not.

So if you’re not making progress, reevaluate your goals. Don’t feel like you cannot change them midstream. One of the best things about A Round of Words in 80 Days is that it is accountability mixed with flexibility.

You determine which horse will get you across that stream, and we’ll be here to cheer you on and make sure the current doesn’t drag you under. Now get on that horse and ride!

~*~

Julie Glover

13 comments

  1. Julie, this is a great analogy. I’ve certainly has a horse go lame and turn into a mule, refusing to budge. I’m still waiting for my Kentucky Derby winner, though. *Cue romantic music.* Someday my dream horse will come *grin*

    It’s a wonderful post, Julie. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Oh my goodness, you hit on my favorite tune from my favorite Disney princess movie. I’ll be singing that all day now–with the lyric change, of course.🙂 Keep believing in the dream, Elizabeth Anne!

  2. Another thought here… Maybe you have to get off the horse and swim a bit for a while. The point is, you have to keep going…because being stuck on the wrong side of the stream can be disastrous,

    (And while I’m not a horse lady, mostly, I’ve done my fair share of riding. I would NOT want to ride a Kentucky Derby Winner. They are very spirited, high-maintenance animals and tend to be used by handlers who’ve known them all their lives. If I need to switch horses, I want a well-trained palfrey who has been ridden by many different riders and knows how to handle changes.)

    The lame horse? If it can be allowed time to recover, let it out to pasture. Let it be. Stop trying to make it work. You might not need to kill it, but don’t look at it as more than the pet that you go visit on occasion for fond memories and a bit of a nuzzle in the hair.

    1. Clearly, you know more about horses than I! I have ridden a few times and have friends who have owned horses. In fact, in my neck of the woods, it’s not unusual for a house to have a horse pasture beside it. But I don’t know all the equestrian stuff. The majority of my horse knowledge comes from story–books like Black Beauty and movies like National Velvet.🙂

      I definitely agree, Eden, that “being stuck on the wrong side of the stream can be disastrous” and you have to keep moving. Thanks for your comment! Happy writing!

      1. *laughs* Sounds like you and I are in a similar boat then… I just read up on more horse manuals when I was a kid trying to convince my parents how I should be allowed to have one. And I volunteered time at a local stable to try to help my cause (never did get a horse, though I did get kicked in the arm by one). Oh, and I grew up near the Saratoga raceway and had an aunt in Louisville…. Got to meet a lot of race horses,

        As for being caught on the wrong side of the stream… imagine there’s a forest fire behind you. You have to move! So write!

  3. I did this. My WIP just wasn’t working. So I put it aside and worked on something else. It was the first time that had ever happened to me, but I found that I was okay with it. You do what you have to do to keep the writing going.

    1. Indeed, Lauralynn. It isn’t fun to admit that it’s time to change horses, but when you finally do, you can just accept it and move on. Glad you realized it and kept writing!

  4. I’ve done this just tonight, and this is definitely not the first time! I often find myself feeling guilty if I put a “horse” aside for a while, but then I find another project to get excited about and I realise that it was the best option.

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