Monday, November 30, 2015

It's Ok to Take a Break

by Christine.

I have previously written about writing goals and sticking to a schedule.  I believe it's important to motivate yourself in this way and see your writing moving forward.  However, there are times when you may just need to take a break from writing - and this is ok!

Perhaps it's a lack of inspiration or other things that are tying up your time; whatever the reason, don't feel guilty about taking a pause from writing.



I was planning to write the sixth book in the Free Rein series this year, but wasn’t pressuring myself to get started when I didn’t know what I wanted the book to be about.  Continuing on with my usual routine, it was when I was studying a particular area of Equine Health in my degree that I came across a topic that seemed like it would work perfectly for the context of book 6.

I was rapt!  The idea for the story and some parts of different chapters easily came together.

Once the book was a quarter written, I hit a writing slump.  That has been the case for the past few weeks and although it is unusual, I decided to not let it bother me.  There is always plenty of other work to be done to take up my time!

Cadence relates to the 'increase in a moment of suspension' in a gait.
As I was reading through the book Dressage Terms Defined I came across a definition for cadence and suddenly had an idea for the next chapter in my novel.  Once again, writing came easily.

Although it is important to set yourself goals and deadlines, I believe that at times you just need to take a break, not pressure yourself and wait for the motivation and ideas to come – even from the most unlikely of sources.  If you love being creative and writing, sometimes it’s just a question of exposing yourself to other avenues (reading, study, conversation, etc) to gain that inspiration.

What do you do when you experience writer's block?
 



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving

Photo Credit: Cindi Albright.
For Americans, it's time to show how thankful we are by eating an army's worth of food over the course of a long weekend and spending billions of dollars on things we really don't need. It's going to be amazing. As an author, however, that got me thinking.

Writing, they say, is a solitary art. A person sits down with their thoughts and their word processor, repeatedly banging on a keyboard until a novel miraculously forms under their fingertips. There is a lot about this description that rings true. I cannot count the number of hours I've sat alone with my computer, starting at its screen with a look of intense focus on my face (or confusion, or frustration, or bone-deep exhaustion).

But this also doesn't reflect the whole truth, because if writers were always going it alone we'd be horrible at our jobs. We need people. We need writer friends to commiserate and write along with, editors to tell us just what needs to be fixed, and beta readers to give us their unflinching first impressions. If you're an indie author, you need artists to help make cover art, proofreaders and copywriters to make your work flawless. You need a whole support group, a family of cheerleaders that pat you on the back as you go.

I published my first book this year, and next year I'll publish one more...maybe two if I'm lucky. The amount of people who helped me launch that sucker off the ground feels limitless, and I feel awful because while I was putting Stay the Distance together I forgot to include an acknowledgements page. Of course, they know who they are. They edited and betaed and supported their little hearts out, and I'm incredibly thankful that they did, because I wouldn't be here otherwise.

Then there are the readers and the book bloggers, who pounced on my work and cheered for it without my having to ask. Their reaction was so important, so necessary, and without their reviews I can't say I'd be back, publishing a book next year.

Writing at its best is an art of cooperation, of being able to reach out and ask someone for their opinion, and being open-minded toward the thoughts of others. It's about dedicating yourself to making something better, and better, until it's done. And I can't say that I could have a better group of people helping me get there as I bang away at that keyboard.

So, what are you thankful for?

***
Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her first novel, Stay the Distance, was released in March 2015. For more information, please visit www.maradabrishus.com

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Where Does Creativity Come From?

by Lisa Trovillion

A writer friend of mine powered out the whole second half of her novel in a matter of two months, tops. I think it took me several years to crank out the painful first draft of mine. Perhaps this novel writing business goes quicker with time and experience. Perhaps. Or maybe she is just more creative than I am. Yeah, that's got to be the answer, I decide. My writer paranoia kicks in.  I'm just not creative enough!

All kidding aside, it made me think about the nature of creativity, where ideas come from, and what spurs imagination. What part of the brain is responsible for creativity and why are some people just so much better at it than others? Wouldn't it be terrific if you could do something to fire off that part of the brain at will or drink something (I know what you're thinking) to access it easier? Well, I started looking into that very question.  Apparently, I'm not the only one interested because if you do an Amazon search for "creativity" and the "brain" it will give you a list of 2,902 titles. Lots of research has been done on this question. As a result of my amateur self-study course into neuroscience, I discovered two books which stand out in not only their description of the brain's function in imagination and creativity, but also how you can take steps to access and improve those areas. The titles are: How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael Gelb and Your Creative Brain by Shelley Carson.

And yet, there is still a missing component in this pursuit of creative excess...and that is discipline and persistence. I've found that creativity is like a pump; you have to prime it first before it starts to work. That priming includes putting things into your brain that are interesting, beautiful, challenging, even upsetting, in order to get it working and churning and pumping out something. You also have to be open to everything around you all the time--to notice things, even the every day things. Lastly, you have to use creativity like a muscle to strengthen it. When I force myself to sit down and come up with something, I am still surprised that the more I do it, the faster ideas come to mind. So, until we find a means of directly tapping into the creativity center of the brain at will, we writers will have to keep "butt in seat, fingers on keyboard" and brain open to the creative muse.

What's your muse and how do you access it best?


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Being Real

by Lisa Wysocky

I was at the barn the other day scratching Tessie, our lead mare, in the pasture. She loves to be scratched. When one of the other horses approached, however, she pinned her ears, made an ugly face, and the other horse moved away. In that moment I wished that I could be as transparent in my life as Tessie was in hers.

That’s the thing about horses. They wear their emotions all over their bodies. Once you understand equine language, you know without a doubt which emotion your horse is feeing. From a swished tail to the tilt of an ear, horses tell us exactly what is going through their minds.

People . . . not so much. Most people hide their emotions and true feelings so deeply that we get caught up in what we think a friend, co-worker, or loved one felt or meant. Usually we are wrong. Then, after a long delicate dance of convoluted proportions where each person tiptoes around the other, one party’s true feelings might possibly come out. Or not. 

Tessie

The upshot is that our complicated human ritual of hiding our feelings is a writer’s dream. We can attach a series of facial expressions and body movements to a fictional character that is sure to confound the reader and keep him or her guessing. Our complex social rules dictate that we suck up anger, disappointment, fear and many other emotions when we are in public. I have sometimes wondered how different our lives might be if we just expressed our feelings in the moment. On one hand our close relationships might become much stronger, as we would have cut through all the red tape that keeps us from being real. On the other hand, our casual and workplace relationships would most likely deteriorate. Who wants to be around Debbie Downer after work, or eat lunch with a person who expresses all of her anger as you’re trying to enjoy a club sandwich?

For now, I will continue to be polite, even on the rare occasions I do not feel like it. I will keep making conversation and smiling, even during those few times when I’d rather be someplace else. One day, though, I’m going to do it. One day when I don’t want to talk to a person who annoys or intimidates me I am going to pin my ears and make an ugly face. I will turn around and walk away from them and if they follow, I will kick them. After that, if I manage not to get arrested for assault, I might even feel good enough to prick my ears and trot toward home. 

Lisa is the author of My Horse My Partner and Horse Country, among many other books, and the award-winning Cat Enright cozy equestrian mystery series, now optioned for film and television. When not writing, Lisa is a therapeutic riding instructor who consults with PATH and other centers about their horse herds.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A novel in a month



By Carolyn Henderson

This month, many writers will be stuck into NaNoWriMo and aiming to write a 50,000-word novel. Their deadline? A minute before midnight on 30th November.
NaNoWriMo is billed as being for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel. Look at any magazine, website or forum for writers and would-be writers and you’ll see that’s a universal dream.
So what’s the difference between a writer and a wannabe? Basically, if you get the words on the page and finish your project, you’re a writer. You won’t necessarily be a good writer and what you write won’t necessarily be ready for publication – but that’s another story.
NaNoWriMo is the answer for anyone who says “I can’t find the time to write” or “I’m great with beginnings but can’t do middles/endings.” By signing up for it, you set yourself a challenge and hopefully, you won’t let yourself down.
Writing isn’t a mysterious mix of inspiration and natural talent, though if you’ve got those, it’ll certainly help. It’s hard work; it can get your adrenaline running when it goes well and reduce you to tears when nothing seems to work and your words seem flat and jaded.
It’s also a skill, and like all skills, it can – and should be - be practised and improved.  Experiment with the way you write, because there’s no one way fits all guide. Some writer plan and plot every little detail before they start, some start with a vague idea and develop it as they go along; some think about characters before plot and others do the opposite.
I haven’t registered for NaNoWriMo, because I’ve got a work in progress running alongside my day job as a freelance journalist and magazine editor. But I have challenged myself to write 50,000 words of the said WIP by that minute before midnight, and it’s doing me good.
As a freelance editor, I spend a lot of time re-structuring articles from experts who don’t necessarily find writing easy. I also do the flat plan jigsaw – working out what has to go where in each issue. I have to polish sections of the magazine as they’re ready, so that the writing and design timetables can work together.
That makes me a picky fiction writer, tempted to perfect Chapter 1 before I’ve got far enough in to the story to know whether it works or will need re-writing. Writing the NaNoWriMo way is pushing me to get most of a first draft finished – 50,000 words isn’t enough for this project – then go back to it.
Have you signed up for NaNoWriMo? If so, I hope you’re enjoying it – even if there are times when it scares you!



Sunday, November 8, 2015

Measures of Greatness

                                                                           Milton C. Toby photo

By Milton C. Toby

Millions of words were written about American Pharoah during his sweep of Thoroughbred racing's so-called "Grand Slam"--victories in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders' Cup Classic. Much more remains to be written, and a recurring theme likely will be assessing where the horse ranks among the sport's best runners.

For someone who writes about racing's history, the question is a tantalizing one: American Pharoah came along at a time when racing desperately needed a hero, no doubt about that. But how good, really, is American Pharoah?

For me, it comes down to these things:

1. Race record--Although I'm not a fan of the contrived "Grand Slam idea," it's difficult to fault a Triple Crown and a Breeders' Cup Classic as collective indicators of a very good horse. But a great horse? Not necessarily. Nor does a loss here and there always disqualify a horse from wearing the mantle of greatness. Secretariat was the best horse I've seen in my lifetime, and despite inexplicable losses he remains the gold standard for greatness in my book.

Race record, standing alone, is not enough. There are other things to consider.

2. The competition--Who finished behind American Pharoah? No one is claiming that the 2012 foal crop was a great one. American Pharoah has no control over his competition, of course, and he defeated every horse that showed up for the Triple Crown races and the Classic. I'm not sure it makes sense to ask anything else of him.

I would, however, be more inclined to judge him a great horse if the others he defeated and his races themselves were more memorable. I was working for The Blood-Horse magazine during the 1970s, and was fortunate enough to see Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed sweep their Triple Crowns. Secretariat's Belmont Stakes, a 31-length victory in 2:24, was the greatest performance I've ever seen; the Affirmed-Alydar rivalry in 1978 was the best Triple Crown series; and Affirmed's driving win over Ayldar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes was the greatest race. In my estimation, American Pharoah falls short in comparison. His races were good, but not great, the victories notwithstanding.

3. The clock--Secretariat established record times in each of his Triple Crown races. American Pharoah set a track record at Keeneland in the Classic, but the colt's clockings generally were more pedestrian. Ironically, Secretariat's Preakness mark was not recognized for almost 40 years.

Canonero II (#9) set a Preakness record that stood for 13 years, until Gate Dancer
lowered the stakes record by two-fifths of a second in 1984.
Winants Brothers/Blood-Horse photo
It happened like this: Concerned about the relatively slow pace in the early going, jockey Ron Turcotte made a bold move on the first turn at Pimlico. He took Secretariat three horses wide and rushed from last to first. Secretariat drew away and finished Sham by 2 1/5 lengths in 1:55, time that was a full second slower than Canonero II's two years earlier. There were immediate questions about the time, which did not seem to match Secretariat's dominant performance.

The electronic timer recorded Secretariat's time for the race as 1:55, but two veteran Daily Racing Form clockers independently caught the colt crossing the finish line in 1:53 2/5, which would have been a new stakes record. A third clocker, working for Pimlico, recorded the winning time as 1:54 2/5. The stewards acknowledged that the timer had malfunctioned and declared 1:54 2/5 as the "official" time. Penny Chenery, who raced Secretariat, lobbied the Maryland Racing Commission for years, asking for a review of the race time. Finally, in 2012, 39 years after the fact, the commission voted unanimously to declare Secretariat's time for the race as 1:53, a Preakness record.

So what can we make of American Pharoah? Is he one of the greats? For me, he is a really good horse.

 



Monday, November 2, 2015

You can Never Stop Learning




This post is a part of the Equus Education Blog Hop: Equine Learning.  I love horses and I love learning about them.  In particular, I love that you can never stop learning about them!

One way I get to learn so much is through reading.  Textbooks, sure – I have studied at TAFE, overseas in Ireland and just finished my Equine Science Degree through Charles Sturt University and all of these courses had textbooks that helped me to learn more about horses and caring for them.

I’ve done a lot of my learning through horse fiction, too.  I first learned about the American term ‘posting’ to the trot in the Saddle Club books – and was corrected at an Australian Pony Club – here it’s known as ‘rising’!

I Learned a lot from my First Horse, Pride

I have written my six novels in the hope that they too will teach others about horses – whether it be what things are like in Australia, how to ride and care for horses or what the horse breeding industry is like in Australia and the United Kingdom.  I think for the most part, horse books allow you to learn something new, or to refresh your memory on certain facts and that’s one of the things I love about horses and reading.

What do you love about horses and learning?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The weight of expectation

by Kate Lattey

Firstly - an apology. I'm not only late with this post, but I completely skipped out on last month's post. I could offer a range of excuses - I got a new phone and this one isn't connected to my Gmail account, so I missed the email reminder; I was at a horse show all weekend anyway and it's a bit tricky to write a blog post on a depleted cell phone; I've been so insanely busy this last month I can't even begin to start complaining about it... but really, those are just excuses.

So here I am, sitting on my bed at half past ten in the evening, having got up at quarter past four this morning and spending most of the day outside, standing on the top of a hill talking into a microphone (commentating a cross-country event, one of my favourite horse show volunteer jobs)...and although I'm tired, I'm writing this blog. Because I said I would, and you, dear readers, are expecting me to.

Expectation. It seems like an appropriate word for today, a day on which, unless you live in New Zealand, certain parts of Australia, or England, you probably didn't know was auspicious. But it has been, because today was the day of the Rugby World Cup Final 2015, and the New Zealand All Blacks were playing the Australian Wallabies at Twickenham stadium. Hence the four a.m. wake up (New Zealand time).

Part of living in New Zealand is the willingness to eat, sleep and breathe rugby, to support our team to the death, to bleed Black. #allblackeverything is the hashtag of choice from the players right now, and it pretty well sums it up. The All Blacks are a mighty team, having won 77% of their international games since 1903, and when the first Rugby World Cup (RWC) was played in 1987, we hosted, and we won. Four years later, the cup went to Australia. Then to South Africa in 1995, and England in 1999, and then back to Australia, and back to South Africa. Every four years, we fell early. In 2007, we were defeated in the quarter-final - it was a bleak day for New Zealand. We felt it as deeply as the players did, and derogatory words were thrown around. Losers. Chokers. We didn't seem to be able to make it count when it really mattered, and it chafed. We won the Tri-Nations tournaments, Bledisloe Cup tournaments, had undefeated international tours of the UK, and still we couldn't bring home the Rugby World Cup. It became a thorn in our sides, and the desire to win became more fervent every time the RWC rolled around.

This time... And yet we fell, again and again, when it came to the Rugby World Cup. We could be ranked #1 in the world for year upon year upon year, never ceding that title, but we couldn't call ourselves the World Champions.

Until 2011, when we hosted the RWC in New Zealand. We are not a big country, but our promise of "A stadium of four million" came to fruition as the entire country got behind the tournament. Schools painted their front fences black, All Blacks flags hung outside houses and flew from cars, and you couldn't drive anywhere in the country, even down the most rural back road, without seeing some message of support, whether it was a scarecrow in All Blacks clothing, or a message of support spraypainted on the side of wrapped baylage. The team had the support of a nation, they were playing at home, and they marched into the final with complete determination and belief. We were playing France, once again. On paper, we were by far the better team. On the pitch, it came down to the narrowest of margins - 8 points to 7 - but we did it. We finally earned the right to call ourselves World Champions.

This morning, four years later, the All Blacks kicked off against Australia. Ninety minutes later, we could once again call ourselves World Champions. The first team to win the cup three times. The first team to win
twice in a row. And the weight of expectation that had sat on the team's shoulders for so long, slowly rolled off. They did it. They proved a point, and we are so, so proud.

That's all very nice, I hear you say, but what does it have to do with horses? Nothing, directly - but it does have to do with writing. Because expectation is something that we all have to live up to. The weight of expectation on me to produce another book, and another, is nothing when compared to the expectations placed on All Black captain (and all round legend) Richie McCaw, but it is expectation, nonetheless.

I want to write more. That's why I recently cut back my working week from five days to four, so that I would have more time. But I was simultaneously offered a job sub-editing a leading equestrian magazine, and it didn't seem like a job I could turn down. So I cut my working week back by eight hours...and am now working an extra 18 hours...how did that happen?

Oh well. That's life, and I am still trying to find time to write in amongst both of those jobs, and riding and showing my horse, and organising Pony Club rallies for my local branch, where I am Head Coach. Which reminds me, they're expecting me to write a rally plan before Tuesday...

But I am writing. I've got three-quarters of Six to Ride, book six in my Pony Jumpers series, written so far. I know what happens next, I just have to find time to write it down. Maybe I need to start getting up earlier in the mornings...but for now, I need to go to bed, because it's 11pm and I've been up since quarter past four... It was worth it though, and I will leave it to Richie McCaw to sum things up in his own charming, not-quite-grammatically-correct way: