Frankie is tall, smart and handsome and has a great temperament. I love his company, but I can’t go out on a date with him. I’m not that picky, but he’s got four legs and a tail.
Frankie is one of the horses at the Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society (HARPS), where I spend many of my Saturdays. As I was helping a new volunteer with grooming over the weekend, it occurred to me just how much writers can learn from Frankie, as well as from the two pre-teen girls who were honing their riding skills on two obstinate ponies. Are you ready to hit the trail with me? Saddle up!
1. Be patient
The new HARPS volunteer had never groomed horses before and was a little nervous. Horses are big animals and standing next to them can be a little intimidating for the uninitiated. She pulled Frankie’s tail a couple times and made a few other minor mistakes, but he was tolerant and didn’t nip at her. He spent most of the time nuzzling my hair, but that’s another story for another time!
When you’re writing a newsletter article, a blog post, a website or any other copy, give yourself permission to make mistakes along the way and learn from them. It’s the only way to grow as a writer. Frankie was patient with the new volunteer as she bumbled along, and he’ll be the same with the next novice. You’ll enjoy writing more if you take the same approach.
2. Practice, practice, practice
Barney and Sunny are spoiled, stubborn ponies that love to get away with whatever they can. They’re not wild, but they are relentless about taking advantage of novice riders. The two tween girls were excited to go for a jaunt in the ring, but found out pretty quickly that Sunny and Barney weren’t so keen about this plan.
The ponies misbehaved a lot and bucked a few times. Off went the girls; I lost count how many times they made contact with the ground. To their credit, they got right back on every time. Their confidence was a little shaken, but they understood the importance of sticking with it.
To become a better writer, you need to write a lot and for different projects. If you’ve only worked on press releases, for example, dip your toes in the water with copy for a website or an online magazine article. Try your hand at different styles of writing, too. It might be difficult at first, but you’ll improve with practice and time. Whatever you do, don’t give up. The tween riders didn’t, even after they’d hit the dirt.
3. Discourage distractions
When men who were working in the barn began drilling one of the doors that had come loose, I can’t tell you how nervous it made me to be in a stall with one of the horses. I’m not sure what size the stalls are, but when you’re trapped inside one with a large animal at arm’s length who is terrified of loud noises, it rapidly becomes a shoebox.
Finding a quiet place to write is as important as avoiding things that go boom when you’re around horses. It’s difficult to concentrate when you’re surrounded by family members or co-workers who are clamoring for your attention or you’re sitting across from a TV that is blaring your favorite 24-hour news channel. And despite what you think, your life will not come to an end if you don’t check your smart phone for messages every 10 minutes or respond immediately to Aunt Nanna’s persistent e-mails that swear the mother ship has landed in her backyard.
4. Ask for help
HARPS volunteers pitch in to help one another. When the new volunteer asked me to show her which tools to use to groom Frankie and how to use them, I was glad to help. She wasn’t afraid to show her inexperience and she didn’t worry that I would judge her for not instantly knowing how to do it. She later helped me shovel manure. It’s not a glamorous job, but everyone at the farm takes a smelly turn.
Even the best writers get stuck from time to time. Whether you need an idea for a story or you have a topic and the words just won’t come, ask for suggestions from someone you respect and who supports you. It could be a significant other, a co-worker or even a professional writer – it doesn’t matter, so long as you keep moving forward. Those who aren’t as close to your project as you are often have excellent ideas, so don’t be shy about tapping into those resources when you need them.
5. Pace yourself
Chores around the farm never end. Taking care of the cow, pig, goats, horses, ponies and assorted other animals; mending fences; cleaning tack; making repairs; shoveling manure; and doing all the other work can be overwhelming. As a volunteer, I do my best to put in a full day’s work, but I also take breaks between bursts of activity.
Schedule blocks of writing time, but realize that you’ll also need to build in some downtime. Only you can decide how long you’ll be able to write before you’ll need a breather. Take time for a brisk walk or a quick errand. Get out of your chair and stretch a bit. Listen to some music. Just get away from the computer to avoid burnout. We all need a break now and then, whether we’re toting bales of hay or writing the next Great American novel.
6. Check your work
The tweens who braved their pony riding (and falling) lessons are smart and learned fast, but they also needed someone to coach them and make sure they were doing all the right things: Don’t hold the reigns so high, look straight ahead, kick hard and tell Barney and Sunny what you want them to do.
Make it a habit to show your copy to someone else when you’re finished. It’s easy to overlook grammatical errors and simple typos when you’ve read and re-read your own copy 10 times.
Inspiration from the unexpected
When I went to the farm last Saturday, I never imagined that Frankie and the tweens would inspire me to blog about them, but life lessons are all around us – we just need to open our eyes and pay attention. I hope you find some inspiration in your own life that helps you with your copy.