Writing Tips from a Horse Whisperer
The Saturday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald runs a ‘Getting of Wisdom’ section, with different people asked to comment on important elements of life. I enjoyed the recent interview with Peter Moody, who trains the sensational Black Caviar. Some of his comments work well when I apply them to writing.
- Ambition: I’ve never harboured great ambition. I’d rather be excited and grateful for the races I’ve won than set specific goals, not achieve them and feel like I haven’t succeeded.Some successes are due primarily to luck.Which horse wins the race on the day depends on the condition of the horse, rider, track, weather, and the competition. Which bit of writing gets published can also depend on elements beyond a writer’s control. We are better off concentrating our energies on improving what we can control: writing, making contacts, learning how to improve, sending out material. The trick is in learning what we are better off leaving in the lap of the gods.
- Learning: I’ve always left myself open to learn from nearly anyone. You keep an open mind, take in as much as you can, throw it in the mixing bowl and come up with your own solutions.Learning can come from workshops, lectures–or books about writing. Reading about writing can provide new ideas, perhaps a different, interesting take on an old topic. Some people believe reading about the writing craft only confuses, and they stick to a single source as their Bible. But like Moody, I like throwing whatever interests me into my mental mixing bowl to see what works.
- Modernising: You have to keep adjusting your methods. You can’t train horses today like the old-timers trained them 30 years ago.We can’t use all the same writing techniques popular years ago. I like reading the works of past writers—Henry James, Flannery O’Connor, Edith Wharton. But imitating their styles would be difficult when writing for today’s readers, who are attuned to modern literature’s pace, vocabulary and structure.
- Support: There are plenty of ups and downs in all walks of life, but you can overcome a lot of obstacles by having support around you.It’s important to work out what kind of support we need and how best to get and maintain it. The other aspect of support is knowing when to retreat from whatever turns out to be unsupportive. Writing groups come to mind. They may be fun, even challenging, but we need to assess them in terms of helping us meet our writing needs and aims.
- Winning: There’s no sweeter feeling than winning. It’s what we do it for.This advice may seem hard to apply to writing. The majority of people who take up writing will never be published in a major journal or win a major award. But other kinds of recognition are possible.Some writers choose to share their writing with a group in order to get the ‘win’ of feedback and support. The group may be a small one that meets face-to-face or a huge online group. Others seek wider validation and send their work off to publication and contests, which vary in terms of their prestige. The main thing is to work out what kinds of ‘winning’ seem appropriate and doable and seek these opportunities.
And sometimes it is fun to take a long shot and submit work to a national or international competition or publication. Who knows—as in a horserace, an outside favourite sometimes wins.
*Photo from Sydney Morning Herald