The everyday running of a horse farm is both exciting and challenging. From the lawn tractor that won’t start (yet again) to the mare who is mysteriously losing hair on her face, to the odd looking weed that has suddenly sprouted in the center of the pasture, there is always at least one ongoing mystery on the farm.
From creative thought to research to problem-solving, writing is much like farm management. First, a problem, conflict, or potential threat has to be identified. On the farm it might be swarming bees, a lame horse, or a leaky barn roof. In writing, it could be a murder, a romantic triangle, or even the loss of a job.
The research phase involves the writer understanding the problem enough to explain it to readers, and offering a plausible resolution. It also involves the characters taking steps to manage the problem, or methodically gather information toward resolving the conflict. In the barn, research might take the form of different sprays to get rid of the bees, an internet search or a call to a local county extension agent to identify the unusual weed, or palpation of a horse’s leg to identify the source of the lameness.
Finally, the character or the horse owner has enough information to make a decision that will solve the problem. The decision might involve some trial and error, but eventually a resolution is found. The weed turns out to belong to an innocuous branch of the mint family, the lameness stems from a sore hip, and the bees, well, spraying a mixture of vinegar and water around the barn seems to deter them.
Unlike mystery books, however, farm-based mysteries usually do not involve a murder. But the thinking process that goes into each really is very similar, and I have found that creative problem-solving on the farm also allows me to then create some interesting plot lines.
One recent challenge was how to secure the barrels for our new horse obstacle so they did not tip over. After much research about safety, and a few trial and error attempts, we ended up packing tires around the barrels to create a stable obstacle for our Colby's Army horses and riders to navigate.
Farm challenges can be frustrating, but if you begin to think of them as a way to develop a book idea or a story line, maybe some of the frustration will turn into creativity. This week I have dealt with the non-starting mower, a mare’s facial hair loss, unwanted bees, a leaning barn support beam, an electric fence that does not want to turn off, and a few other odds and ends. What have your farm or writing challenges been recently?
Lisa Wysocky is a bestselling and award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction, including the Cat Enright equestrian mystery series, now optioned for film and television. She is also a therapeutic riding instructor who consults with PATH and other centers about their horse herds. Find her at lisawysocky.com