Maia Nolan-Partnow: Getting Back on the Horse

Welcome to our March featured writer, Maia Nolan-Partnow.

My name is Maia, and I’ve fallen off the fiction wagon.

I finished my MFA in fiction in 2008, when it seemed like the universe was in the process of aligning itself in a way that would ensure my success as a writer. In the year that followed, I co-wrote a play that was produced by Perseverance Theatre and presented on the mainstage at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. I won a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award and started building a steady freelance business. I was offered, and accepted, a full-time job as an editor at an exciting news startup. I hate to turn to a cliché so early in the post, but the sky was pretty much the limit.

So you’d think I’d be spending my month as guest writer talking about how to successfully complete a novel while balancing work and life, right? Right?

Wrong. Almost four years after defending my novel-in-progress thesis, that novel is still very much in progress. I’ve written a lot over the last four years, but it’s been short-term writing – columns and articles and blog posts. My novel, meanwhile, languishes unfinished in notebooks and Word documents.

Turns out, being a writer is hard when you don’t have a thesis advisor leaning over your shoulder, making sure you meet your deadlines. (Thanks, Jo-Ann.) Especially when there are so many other things competing for your attention. (In the course of “writing” this post, for example, I got sidetracked by my closet, in which everything is now clean and freshly pressed, with my next seven work outfits put together on hangers. Including stockings and jewelry.) And when you’re in a job that, while fulfilling, consumes all your free time and creative energy, and you’re planning a wedding, and trying to make time for your family, and…

…yeah, see what I did there? I made excuses. I realized recently that I’ve been doing a lot of that – even though most of the things I was excusing are no longer relevant. I made a career change nearly a year ago, and now I have a job that’s creatively satisfying without being draining. The wedding has been planned and over for eight months. I get home between 5:30 and 6 p.m. every night, I do a lot of Crock Pot cooking, and I don’t have kids. One thing is clear: At this point, the only thing standing between me and writing is… well, me. Oh, and my crippling fear of failure.

Readers who are familiar with my work will know this is the point in my writing at which I usually make a pop culture reference. I’m willing to bet I’m the only person who reads 49 Writers and watches the ABC Family show “Make It or Break It,” but I’ll go for it anyway. For those of you who haven’t been watching mediocre cable TV aimed at tweens instead of working on your novels in progress: “Make It or Break It” is about elite gymnasts training for the Olympics. At the end of the first season, the most promising gymnast, Payson, suffers a devastating fall in competition and breaks her back, effectively ending her career. The next season, after undergoing a risky experimental procedure, she’s cleared to start training again — but she doesn’t tell her coaches, pretending instead that she’s still grounded. Why? She’s too scared to get back on the horse (well, it’s actually the bars that freak her out, but you get the point). The idea of falling again — or not being able to do what she used to be able to do — terrifies her.

I suppose that’s not the greatest analogy in the world considering I didn’t fall off a gymnastic apparatus and break all ten of my typing fingers, but despite the fact that I didn’t suffer a debilitating injury, I’m feeling a bit like Payson. It’s scary, trying to get my writing mojo back. It’s a great feeling to be full of promise. It’s terrifying to think about having to deliver on that promise. What if I can’t finish my novel? What if I can and it’s terrible? What if it’s not terrible and I never find a publisher? What if I finish it and find a publisher and it’s a massive failure?

These are all questions I’ll never have to answer if I don’t try. Of course, I’ll never get to find out if I can live up to all that potential, either. And as afraid of failure as I am, I’ve decided I’m more afraid of failing to try.

That’s why I’m getting back on the wagon. Maybe I have to treat writing like going to the gym or getting up for work the morning after a late night out – the idea of getting started seems overwhelming, but I know once I get rolling, I’m going to be glad I did it. Even Payson manages to overcome her fear and get back to being one of the world’s best gymnasts. And maybe that’s fiction… but hey, so is what I do.

Also, I probably need to stop watching so much ABC Family. I don’t think it’s doing anything for my productivity.

Maia Nolan-Partnow is an Anchorage journalist and blogger and a former editor of who now works in advertising. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction from the University of Alaska Anchorage. You can find her online at and follow her on Twitter at @myster.

2 thoughts on “Maia Nolan-Partnow: Getting Back on the Horse”

  1. From the extend a metaphor section of the peanut gallery, regarding getting-back-on-the-horse:In order to be a great jockey, you must love the horse.

    When I read that yesterday I was reminded of my malaise with my completed, and being revised again and again, novel;I have fallen out of love with the world of the story.

    What I need is less cracking of the whip and more rekindling of my love for this story. I know I can work my a** off when needed but more and more I'm finding that I need to love something or the work is mere text and scenery.

    Maybe Love really is all I need.
    So, thanks for your post, Maia. It's a good reminder of what I need to do today.

  2. Write write write write. Start with the blackberries in paragraph one. I need to know what's up with the berries. Guess who?

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