Don’t take your cow to town

This post is for those who have contacted me to say they feel like they are going around and around in their writing question about wanting.

How do you approach your question? And your writing?

As you come to that blank page, or face your question each morning is it a chore, a curiosity, a longing to find some elusive answer, a prayer or meditation? Do you approach with dread, of being sucked into an old vortex, or with playfulness, as a child sits in the dust to play in an imagined world of fairies and dragons?

How you hold your question is part of your orientation that will affect everything. Your intention and motivation to write, your relationship and experience of writing will be there as a support or a barrier, a bridge or some other invisible thread hemming you in or letting you fly the trapeze of your open mind.

All of these things, along with your hopes and fears around your question are the maps and compass you bring to your writing. Your brain-mind is holding all of this as you sit to write and most of it is outside your awareness. And yet it will be sitting there on the page at every turn of phrase.

So, if you’d like to uncover some of these subtle and invisible orientations to your unanswered question you need to find a different way into them, a different orientation. Here are some suggestions for a whole new way in and perhaps through to the other side of your writing question.

Imagine of all these orienting factors as cows

I like cows, but if you don’t like cows you could think of all the elements or orientation I described above as sheep, chooks or dogs, mice or maybe cats. If you want something less warm and furry you could go for fish, crabs, spiders, termites or lizards. Or you might like to use a more inanimate construct to describe your elements, such as the wind, water, rocks or sand, trees and leaves and so on.

Being silly and playful or letting the mind discover unexpected metaphors and analogies, creating a story, like a connective tissue between seemingly unrelated experiences, offers a different orientation that allows you to step out of you rigid way of thinking and into a new map of the same old territory. So let’s have some fun with our question and our writing.

Back to the cow metaphor

If I approach all of these elements in my writing question as cows I can begin to imagine them and give them form instead of them wandering around in my head like Brown’s cows, or stampeding through my life and trampling my geraniums or my clean white page. This allows me to step outside the elements and have a different experience of them, a different relationship with them.

Now I can imagine myself corralling (I love that word so I’ll say it again) – corralling my herd of cattle. I could picture myself as a cowboy. Not sure why I go to cowboy instead of cowgirl, “cowgirl” just doesn’t seem to have the same tough appeal I need for this scene. As the cowboy I have that kind of wide legged swagger and I’m shoot’n the breeze, got the boots with spurs and pointy toes too. Are you coming with me on the winged cow of my imagination yet? “But how is this going to help me write through my own stuck metaphors?” I hear you moan low. Well I’m getting there (I think) so bear with me for a moment. Can you see that playing with these elements of orientation that I usually get stuck in, or that are unseen in my psyche, can give me a different perspective on things, so my approach is more playful and lighter, ie not stuck?

Ok onto or into the beast

Ok so now my cows are corralled, I might want to work directly with one particularly stubborn cow, perhaps my stuckness or my fear of getting stuck in old stories that rocks up each time I start writing my question.

I scan my corralled cows and then zoom in on the one I want. He’s a big bull. He’s black and looks mean. He’s tough, he’s old, and his horns are sharp and thick. This bull is dangerous. I’m sitting on the fence watching him and my knees are trembling. I pull my hat down over my head and leap into my feared corollary. I’m in the cow story now.

At first I see them circling each other, the cowboy, now more a matador (hmm nice pants) and the bull. The beast is confused that someone is confronting him. He stamps his foot and snorts. The cowboy-matador is scared but all his mates are watching so he doesn’t want to wet his pants. He spits on the ground and holds up his cape. His mates clap and cheer. Ok ok I was just having fun, I’m getting there.

It seems like I’m not doing anything but being silly. But in playing in my imagination I am no longer just the cowboy, scared as he faces the bull. I can move inside the bull, or be one of the mates watching from the fence, or see the world from a piece of chewing gum on the matador’s shiny shoes. I could be an eagle circling overhead, or I can move the cowboy to experiment with different actions.

I can leap between the beast and the cowboy

I am now the director, not just one of the actors or characters in the story, stuck in a role. This shifts my orientation on an old theme, or stuck story. People have been using this, particularly writers and artists, for centuries, finding different perspectives on old patterns, personal, familial and cultural. But above all I’m playing. I have moved out of feeling trapped in the fear of the stuck story and am moving around freely and have reclaimed some power through my capacity to reorient.

The imagination and the brain don’t mind if something is “real” here and now experience or some remembered past or imagined future. Your brain-body will respond to what you imagine or orient towards. So you might as well find your choice of imagining.

Anyway back to the bull and the cowboy. So now that I’m watching the story unfold I can very clearly see that I want to ride this bull as the cowboy. So instead of just standing there wetting my pants I now have a plan.

I could find a completely new angle for my story. I might bring in a cowherd (or cowheard) into the story who could sing a song or move the bull gently to the back paddock. I could have a talking bull and dialogue with it.

I could give my story a name such as, “My stuck bull story,” or “don’t take your bull to town.”

So there you go, that’s one suggestion for facing your stuckness or any bull that arises and starts snorting and stamping over your morning pages. Pin him down, find him a cowboy or corral or shoo him into the back paddock, talk to him. But remember you don’t have to let that old bull, run your story or your life. But never take your bull or cow to town because…… well …. um… that’s another story.







  1. Fabulous tips Rita. ‘Don’t take the cow to town’; well that’s a great invite for my mischief making inner 5 year old who likes to play with most things it’s told not to (a chance to re orient in my writing from the serious 37 year old who was becoming a bit boring, perhaps fearful and safe). The 5 year has taken off with a sense of adventure riding the cow to town to see what happens . So far the cow is much more adorable, a play mate with a few issues that we’re facing together , causing some raucous in town …
    thanks Patsy

Leave a Reply