Organic writing is described as ‘seat of the pants’ writing where story falls out of the pen possibly leading down the dark halls of no return. Adversaries claim the writer dives in and searches for story structure as they go. This opposes advocates of story structure, or architecture, for which the writer develops a story outline, then fills in with the words. Proponents believe this method provides a crisp clean story and wastes less time.
They may be right but it has absolutely nothing to do with an organic writing life.
Organic- happening or developing in a natural and continuous process consisting of different parts that fit together well.
It took a bit of digging to find this definition because most dealt with organisms and fertilizer. It wouldn’t be hard to make a case for fertilizer or organisms in organic writing or the organic life, especially when you own horses. And heaven knows organic is much healthier. But still—not the point.
One day you wake up after miles of busting your little fingers across the keyboard of a lap tap and you go, “Huh, how’d this happen?”
I’m a riding instructor. Now I’m a riding instructor/writer. Or maybe that’s always been true.
Structure or architecture for becoming a writer would have involved plans and a certain amount of desire to become an author. Unlike other writers I harbored no thoughts of becoming a writer from fourth grade, nor from any English class from that time forward. So there was no dream of becoming an author and story teller. No plan for steps in a writing career. No college journalism classes.
But I loved horses early and competed, and taught riding by high school. I wanted a career with horses and to the dismay of teachers, counsellors and family, I made plans to push forward.
Writing is Normal
Writing seemed a normal part of being a riding instructor. I wrote lesson plans and student handouts as the normal course of activity. When I took multiple students to horse shows, I wrote handbooks to guide them. As a trainer in Colorado my employer gave me weekly topics to write. To this day I don’t know what became of the work.
Over the years I’ve written articles for local horse newspapers and a few magazines. I wrote monthly newsletters for a half-dozen groups and organizations. And the copy for multiple websites, business plans, camp programs, businesses, and curriculum. And blogs. The Riding Instructor blog is ten years old, and it isn’t my first.
Twenty-plus years ago I wrote a children’s story about a pony and a handicapped child. It was well before my introduction to writing fiction, writing rules, and genre, but it made me cry and brought tears to the eyes of friends. The story fell out of my pen while I recuperated from a serious horse injury. Organic writing.
Story Crept In
Somewhere during the past ten years, parts of a story invaded both my sleeping and conscious mind, but time spent with thoughts of fake people disturbed me. After months of harassment, I wrote the story into my computer to get it out of my head. It worked. The dreams went away, and I figured it solved the problem.
But then stories multiplied until characters lined up, waiting to be heard.
Education and Rhino Skin
Following my normal tendency to jump into the deep end, I became a sponge for every writing improvement available, taking online lessons, joining critique groups, entering contests.
The need to develop a writer’s rhino skin isn’t a myth. My first critiques and contest results felt like being thrown from a horse and having the wind forced out of my lungs. But with the pain came the blessings of encouragement and soon I sifted through the advice and found what I needed.
Tina Radcliffe advised me to continue entering contests, so I did. Judges’ critiques gave me a lot to work with and when my work started to final in contests, I knew my writing was improving. And as it improved, the critiques honed things I hadn’t been able to solve, and gave me the incentive to work harder. My strongest advice to anyone who wants to improve as a writer is Tina’s advice. Enter contests and grow your own rhino skin.
Deadlines motivate me. I’ve always worked better with horses and students when we had a show for which to prepare, a Pony Club rating to pass, or the first day of camp looming. A recent week smacked of the writers’ deadlines I’d heard referenced, and while it was exhausting, I was excited to press forward.
Whoa, How’d that Happen?
And then a contest judge complimented me. “You are a story teller.”
And I thought, “How did that happen? How did any of this happen?”
In retrospect the answer is easy. Walking my way here not so much.
Creativity is a gift and the funny thing regarding gifts is those who have them believe the gifts are normal and everyone else is like them. If it’s easy for me to teach riding, or train a horse it should be easy for every horse lover. If I can draw a picture of a horse so can you. Maybe you’re a math whiz and can’t understand why other people struggle to keep their credit cards straight. Rarely do we see our own gifts as special. I’ve heard repeatedly in my life I should become a writer and scoffed.
You just can’t thwart God’s plans. Until I accepted that I was created to be who I am, I lived in a world of frustration, doubt and lack of self-worth. It’s not been simple. It’s been an organic path, one of a natural continuous process consisting of parts that fit well together.
Not There Yet
Have I arrived? Are my problems and struggles over? Am I cruising through maturity? Good grief, no.
Proof of My Beginning
And for fun, here’s proof of my solo byline in the June 1969 issue of The Mo-Kan Horseman and Sportsman.
What about you? Has your life taken a wonderful path you didn’t expect?
Barbara Ellin Fox