When I was a kid and wanted to learn to ride, I spent hours practicing not just for a summer but year after year. I took lessons riding any horse available, went to summer camp, competed in horse shows, and read everything I could get my hands on. I practiced continuously. Then over the years I met incredible horsemen who taught me about different facets of horsemanship and the industry. I worked hard at my craft of teaching riding and training horses.
Riding horses is not like riding a bicycle. Riding horses is a use it or lose it deal. If you don’t continue to practice and apply yourself, you cannot expect to continue to ride at your best level. The same applies to writing. If you don’t continue to practice writing, your words become stale and your skill recedes. And while you may always be a good rider or writer, you’ll miss out on working at your potential.
Resting on your laurels is asking to be passed by. Unless you do something totally unheard of such as training two Triple Crown winners, or you write Harry Potter, this week’s champion is merely next week’s competition. Bob Baffert and J.K. Rowling can afford to bask in their achievements and not worry about improvement. The rest of us cannot.
No one in the horse industry knows everything. Neither does anyone in the writing world. And a teachable spirit will take a person farther than a closed mind.
In the horse business every opportunity has something to offer. A smart horseman will learn from every horse they ride or rider they teach whether the lesson is negative or positive. The same goes for writing. Every critique you receive from a member of a critique group, or from a contest judge, or an editor holds a kernel of wisdom, even when the critique is negative. And in both industries we learn from success and failures. How much you learn is up to you.
Gimmicks, tricks, and short cuts ruin horses, and they cheat riders out of becoming their best. Learning multiple methods for training and different ways to teach riders adds depth to your talent. It doesn’t take being in the horse world long to realize that nothing betters patience.
This is so true in the writing world. There are no short cuts to learning our craft and there are not short cuts to our stories. Developing characters, increasing tension, making every word count, and adding layers to your story takes time. Patience and perseverance are a writer’s friends as much as they are a rider’s friends.
A rider has to practice the same things over and over again because they have to train their muscles, develop feel, and train their minds to the task of riding. I can’t count the hours I spent riding bareback to develop a seat, or riding without stirrups to develop strong legs. And I studied the theory over and over until I understood and could apply what I’d learned. The more I practiced, the more I understood and the more questions I knew to ask.
Writing is like that for me. The more I write and work on my craft the more I understand the craft books and methods that are taught. I don’t mind reading the same book over again and I don’t mind retaking a course, because as I progress in my basic understanding, the ground work is laid for further understanding.
Riding lessons and writing courses are the basis of the education in both endeavors.
Summer camp for a horse lover is like conference for the writer. Both are intensive craft training times that can result in long-term friendships.
Horse shows and writing contests both teach you to prepare, to work under pressure, to meet deadlines, and to evaluate subjective results.
And both industries offer numerous craft books through which we can expand our knowledge base.
I’m at the beginning of my career in writing, and I’m grateful for the lessons I learned in my more than fifty-year career with horses. Not only did I have immense satisfaction from seeing students and horses reach goals, it paved the way for me to understand that learning never ends.
And isn’t that like our walk with Jesus? We keep learning and practicing and growing, knowing we can’t learn it all and won’t see perfection until we see Him. And until then, it’s the journey that brings us the greatest joy.
Barbara Ellin Fox
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