Writing, riding and brainwaves
By Carolyn Henderson
As the newbie on Horse Crossings, I must start by saying – thanks for inviting me. As a reader, I’m fascinated that although many of the writers here live in different time zones from me, we walk to the same beat.
The reason is, of course, that we love horses and we love writing about them. I’m lucky: as a journalist as well as an author of non-fiction and fiction books, I write and edit full-time. It isn’t all as wonderful as many people imagine; for example, I’ve just been editing an article about the importance of hygiene in dairies. That’s the flipside of the enjoyable part, where I get to interview and write about inspiring riders, horse owners and trainers.
Like many writers, I have to fit in time for writing fiction around work that I know will pay a certain number of bills. When I wrote my teen/YA novel, Beside Me, I got up at 5am every morning to finish the first draft. My husband deserves a special trophy for encouraging me rather than complaining, but that’s another story.
I’d get up and wonder what my characters were going to do and say. I’m sure every writer will recognise that, because even when you think you know where your story is going, it surprises you. Whether the words flowed or trickled, I “allowed” myself an hour and a half a day and extra time at weekends.
Looking after and riding our two horses helped, too. When your brain’s buzzing, whether because you’re solving a plotting glitch or because you’re preoccupied with a work or family issue, you have to switch it to different pathways to ride. Horses demand and deserve our full attention.
And guess what? By the time I’d finished riding, writing problems had often resolved themselves. It was as if one part of my brain was freed up to reorganise itself whilst the other went to work.
When I finished that first draft, I felt like my lovely cob must do when he lets off steam in the field. There was a lot of work still to come, of course, and some of it hurt – like the day I cut a whole chapter because I realised that although I’d had a lot of fun writing it, it didn’t add anything.
Then there were my editor’s corrections. Editing other people’s work doesn’t mean you’re impervious to sloppiness and howlers, because you read your work so many times, you see what you expect to see rather than what’s there. That’s my excuse for changing a character’s last name halfway through and for a shoe-related ‘Whoops!’ moment.
When I pressed the ‘send’ key on the final version, it was tempting to have a break for a couple of months. But after a couple of weeks, I knew I had to start again - to find out what happened next. It was a bit like those cold, wet, windy winter days when you’re tempted to give a horse a few days off because the weather is foul, then realise once you’ve got going that the work is exactly what you both needed.
It’s the same with books, both fiction and non-fiction. Writing is a muscle and you have to keep it flexed – even if that means you sometimes have to push yourself.