|photo by Katie Juare|
In my life as a teacher of horsemanship I often urge people to, “feel what your horse feels, see what he sees,” and to, “ride that horse from the inside out.” I believe the only way to fully connect to the spirit and passion of Equus is to be so present in the moment that you feel the dirt crunching beneath your hooves.
So it is with writing; to bring out the whole story, every turn of it and every yearning emotion that longs to come forth, you must write it from the inside out.
The story is already there, every word waiting for a pen. It does not need us to tell it; it just needs to borrow a voice so it can be heard. That is our part as writers, we are to loan our voices so the story can speak for itself. We shouldn’t interrupt or talk over the top of it; rather, we should seek to relay its plain truth.
And to really write it well, one must have courage enough to go wherever a story goes, not worrying about how it will end or how it will be taken. When we alter a story and try to make it say what we want it to say, we will begin to lose the thread. It will wander and wither. Much like a horse, if you keep the reins too tight the spirit will wane.
To let a story speak for itself we as writers must first throw ourselves right into the middle of it. We should learn it so well that it becomes part of our consciousness. If a story smells like dust and grit rising up and sticking to our sweaty pores, that’s what we should smell—it should make us itch.
So let go of how you think something should feel and just feel how it really feels. Experience it; let it unfold however it will. That is what your imagination is for, to put your life where your body is not.
Working with horses has taught me that they all, from the gentlest to the wild and thundering, have a lesson for us. So does every story, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. They all come to us for a reason. I’ve seen it so often that I no longer question it.
Write whatever comes to you. With all due respect to the old axiom that you should write about what you know about, I’d say that perhaps you need the story as much as it needs you, that the hard work involved in writing it properly—the questioning, the research, editing and revisions required to get it just right—are meant to show you something, something you should know, something you can then share with your readers.
I believe this so strongly that I’d never discourage anyone from writing whatever they are drawn to, just as I rarely tell someone they should find a different horse. Instead I encourage both writers and riders to put the hard work in, to keep polishing, refining and understanding. Eventually they will glean the lesson that waits inside.
Winston Churchill famously said, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” I would humbly add that the inside of a horse—or a story—is even better.
Lynn chimes in...
At a Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference a few years back, I was one of those last-on-the-list writers during Open Mic night. There weren't more than five people in the room when Chris Ellsworth got up to read an excerpt from his novel-in-progress. I instantly went from slumped in my seat to on the edge of it.
"You guys missed it," I told my friends the next morning. "This guy can write!"
Chris, humble as ever, left a few things out of his bio...
He's a horseman, first and foremost. Formerly a "shy cowboy who preferred not to speak," Chris now leads clinics all over the country. He also gives private lessons and takes in a few horses for training. You can learn more about his clinics (as well as a boatload about horses) by visiting his website:
Chris writes equine related nonfiction and long fiction, and oh--he forgot to mention that he is currently Vice President of Wyoming Writers, Inc.
If you want a sample of Chris's clear-eyed, insightful and sensory style, click on the blog link on his website.
"Blog," my foot--he's got a whole damn book on there, with 14 chapters. Slash Twenty tells the ongoing story of Lynx, a one-eyed horse that was delivered into Chris's capable hands. I was hooked after reading the first paragraph, and I haven't been on a horse since I was twelve.
Chris is a self-confessed workaholic who says he will "make himself available to talk horses for as long as anyone would like to stay."
I'm just grateful he agreed to talk writing with us for a little bit.