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On Writing and Riding: The Importance of Foundation

Article re-printed from Writer’s Digest Blog.

Author – Kari Bovée

Both writing and riding can be challenging to master. Here, Kari Bovée explains how revisiting your foundation of study and practice can help you advance your natural writing skills and rediscover your passion for the craft, much in the same way she learned to be more adept at natural horsemanship.

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Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash
Writing is challenging endeavor—one that requires a little bit of natural talent and a whole lot of study and practice. The same holds true for natural horsemanship. As a practitioner of both disciplines, I have learned that both writing and riding require a certain amount of physical stamina, but more importantly, an intellectual understanding of foundation—and that sometimes, we have to go back in order to move forward. We must have the courage to find the holes and gaps in our foundation in order to repair it, build upon it and make it whole.
Achieving excellence in any art or discipline has its roots in a solid and sure foundation.
I first started studying natural horsemanship in 2012. Before then, I felt my knowledge and skills as a horsewoman were well above average. I’d had horses most of my life. I had good handling skills and decent riding skills. I felt I knew my horses’ quirks, their strengths and weaknesses. I found it easy to learn new disciplines and I did well at competition—until I didn’t. Suddenly, I hit a wall. Something was wrong. Something was missing. I wanted more from myself, more from my horses, and more from our performance.
So, I turned to natural horsemanship. Once I started learning about the philosophy and psychology of natural horsemanship, I realized what was missing. I had holes and gaps in my foundation. I realized I knew little of what it is to be a good partner to my horses. I knew almost nothing about horse psychology—how a horse thinks, or feels or learns. I also didn’t put into practice the idea that horses are individuals, and like humans, have their own unique set of personality traits, emotions, and skill sets that should be taken into account when training them or working with them. My knowledge, my practice and my “feel” suddenly seemed so rudimentary.
Seeing the holes in my foundation was startling, humbling and even a little dispiriting. It is never fun to find out you are deficient at something, especially something you are passionate about. Yet, recognizing my weaknesses only made me want to turn them into strengths. I had found a challenge. And, nothing excites me more than a challenge!
Pain & Struggle: A Fundamental Part of Writing
As natural dressage instructor Karen Rohlf says in her book, Dressage Naturally … Results in Harmony, “to find holes in your foundation, it is a gift.” It is a gift because we get a chance to go back and make things right. To fill in the blanks. To make something whole. She further explains that we must continue to work on our foundation and constantly nurture it to help it grow. For only then do we really have something to build upon.
Finding that my foundation with my horses was on shaky ground gave me pause, and also made me question the foundation of my other passion in life, writing. Could it be as unstable and incomplete as my equine passion? I suppose if one never looks, one never finds. So, look I did. And find I did. More holes.

There is nothing more cringe-worthy to me than the experience of reading some of my earlier works; manuscripts, or stories, or articles I’d written when I was younger and more inexperienced. Looking back at those pieces of writing made me want to give up. Who did I think I was fooling? How could I have been so misguided? How could all those English profs I admired be so misguided?
Once I got over the embarrassment of what I considered to be “good” writing, I found that I could also see in those past works little nuggets of natural skill, some wisdom in my innocence, and a whole lot of passion. Maybe the profs weren’t crazy, after all. It was enlightening to go back and see that younger, more inexperienced self. It showed me how far I’ve come and how far I still have yet to go. I can see the challenges ahead, and it lights a fire within me. I realized I want to be better at what I do. Always.
So I started to seek out mentors. People who are more experienced than I in both of my chosen disciplines. People who are have the experience and knowledge to spot the holes in my understanding, training, and natural set of abilities. People who are willing to share with me what I can do to repair or fill in those holes, to help me build, re-build, and strengthen my foundation.

2nd Draft critique services provide a high-level review of your writing.
Friends and family have often questioned why, in the past few years, I have attend so many writers’ conferences and workshops. They wonder why I spend so much time and expense, and sometimes travel away from home for extended periods of time, to work on my horsemanship. Haven’t I learned enough already? Don’t I already know and understand the basics? My answer is always, no. Not enough. There is never an end to learning, and the foundation of our training and knowledge is never as solid as we think it is. Things change, evolve and grow. The foundation beneath our feet is always shifting, and we have to keep up with it or lose our balance.
Going backward can sometime feel like a failure, or a punishment. But, if we look at it as part of the journey, as part of becoming more whole ourselves, as a person, it doesn’t seem so bad. I’ve learned that in order to move forward with anything in life, we often must take a few steps back. We need to revisit and confront our weaknesses, work on them and challenge them to become a bigger part of the whole. This requires work, but the work doesn’t have to be painful. I like to think of it as adding more squares and shapes to a hand-made quilt. Sometimes we have to go back and repair some of the stitches that have worn over time, but it only makes the new patches we sew on all the more beautiful and bright.
It never hurts to go back to the beginning—especially with fresh eyes and a new perspective. After the last chapter is finished, it’s good to go back to the first chapter to see if the idea or story has circled back around, that the first part of the work has continuity with the last. When trying to learn or finesse a skill in the saddle, it’s good and necessary—and only fair to the horse—to go back to the basics to check the foundation before asking him or her to learn and perfect something new.
Having patience with the process and with ourselves is never easy. But it can be well worth the sometimes difficult task of going backwards. If you’ve fallen out of love with what you do, or if you feel the urge to give up on your passions and dreams, or if you think you just can’t get any better at something, maybe it’s time to go back. Take a hard look at your foundation. Look for the holes. And when you find them, I hope you rise to the challenge to fill them in, add to the quilt and become the writer, the equestrian or the person you hope to be.

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Kari Bovée is an award-winning writer. Empowered women in history, horses, unconventional characters, and real-life historical events fill the pages of KariBovée’s articles and historical mystery musings and manuscripts. Her historical fiction novel, Girl with a Gun: An Annie Oakley Mystery goes on sale June 19th.

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My Characters Are My Family

For writers, the characters often become like family. One question I get asked at book clubs and signings is, “How do you come up with your characters?”

I would guess this is the most popular question all writers get. So, how do we come up with our characters? Here are a few ways I develop them.

I start by asking these questions. What do they look like? How do they talk? How do they think? What do they fear? What drives them? What are their goals? Do they have any annoying habits? It is difficult but I try to let the characters speak for themselves in an interview style writing exercise. By writing basic interview questions and then answering them as if the character is speaking, helps me get a feeling for each character.

I outline my protagonist, the love interest, and the bad guy. This sounds crazy since I’m not a ‘plotter’; a writer who outlines the entire book before writing it. I am a ‘pantster’; a writer who sits down and writes by the seat of their pants. However, I flesh out my characters with an outline. I want to know all about them, from the way they look to how they look at others. Outlining the characters can really help the story and make people want to read or continue reading the book. It can also help when the book is being reviewed. It helps me keep from writing too many repetitive words about them. It helps to keep the back-story down to what only the reader needs to know. Back-story can weigh down the reader. It is one of the hardest things for me as a writer to control. This is why a good editor is such a valuable partner. The editor keeps me from getting out of control with the prose.

Another thing I do is use the personalities of friends and family. Of course, I change how they look and talk, but the personality is the same. It helps the general feeling I get for the character and know how the character will act in a situation.

Now that the characters are living, breathing, beings on paper, I can write the plot; the surrounding events that make up the story. I’ve read countless articles about which is more important; character or plot. Personally, I think both are equal but if you flesh out exciting, well-rounded characters, your plot will run smoothly into the next best-seller. Your audience will really appreciate all the time and effort put into character development.

Looking for Editing Tools?

These are some of the editing tools to consider to help polish your manuscript before sending it to agents and publishers. I have several of them I use daily in all my writing. I recommend  trying them to see what works best for you. Several are free to use or have low monthly usage costs. The list was published in NY Book Editors Newsletter. I am reposting it here.

 

instantly-improve-your-writing-with-these-11-editing-tools

For most writers, editing is a chore—but that goes double for novelists. After you’ve spent weeks, months, or even years writing a novel, it’s hard to enter “edit” mode where you delete most of your hard work away. Plus, there’s the issue of being too close to your work to actually see what technical problems lurk within its pages.
Here’s a great solution: an automatic editing tool. This type of tool proofreads your writing, checking for grammar, spelling, and a host of other errors. While your text editor will probably have built in spelling and maybe a grammar check, a dedicated editing tool can find hidden errors that are easily missed on a standard text editor.

Remember that no automatic editing tool can ever take the place of a human—well, at least not until the rise of Artificial Intelligence. While we wait for robots to roam the earth, you’ll still need a professional human who understands the natural flow of language and storytelling. Use these tools to help you initially edit your work before sending it off to be polished by a professional.
Let’s take a look at the tool automatic editing tools available.

In alphabetical order:

after-the-deadline
After the Deadline
Use After the Deadline to check for spelling errors, misused words, and common writing errors. After the Deadline uses artificial intelligence to recommend smart alternatives. It includes 1,500 misused words and suggests words that fit and flow better with your writing.
After the Deadline also hunts down any passive or complex phrasing. It looks for cliches, redundant phrases, and offers teacherly advice. If you’d like to understand why a phrase or word is in error, After the Deadline will offer a brief explanation.
It’s bare bones, but available for use on multiple platforms, include Chrome, Firefox, OpenOffice, and WordPress. You can also copy and paste your work for a quick check here.
Please note this program does not currently support Google Sheets which could be a sticking point for some.

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AutoCrit
Unlike After the Deadline, AutoCrit is made specifically with Fiction Writers in mind. It’s a premium online manuscript editing tool with prices starting at $5 per month. It’s a step above an online grammar or spell checker. What it does is look for areas in your manuscript that need attention.
It focuses on the areas of pacing and momentum, dialogue, word choice, repetition, and strong writing. It’ll steer you away from passive voice, adverbs, cliches, and filler words. It helps you tighten up your story your way by making strong suggestions, although it never “fixes” your writing for you. You have the choice of whether or not to accept a suggestion.
Ultimately, AutoCrit is great to guide your edits in the self-editing stage. It’s best used for developmental edits, rewrites and avoiding common writing no-nos.

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CorrectEnglish
CorrectEnglish is a tool used by everyone from teachers to business writers. Although it’s not specific to novelists, CorrectEnglish is a popular tool that will definitely help you improve the grammar and readability of your writing.
It’s not cheap, though. CorrectEnglish requires a yearly subscription. Although you can purchase different packages, expect to pay about $120 for the instant, comprehensive writing assessment. There’s nothing to download—the product is completely web-based (which may be a pro and con).
CorrectEnglish supports APA and MLA style guides.

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EditMinion
Tired of having your readers spot the same common mistakes over and over again? Try using EditMinion — known affectionately as a robotic copy editor, EditMinion is free, easy to use, and lightning fast. You’ll get a comprehensive overview at a glance. EditMinion shows you the most frequently occuring words, average sentence length, and the longest sentence by words. It highlights adverbs, weak works, passive phrases, and cliches. You can also toggle on or off EditMinion’s search parameters individually.
It’s not the best editor on this list, but it’s free and does a good job of isolating grammar errors. So, it’s hard to complain about it.

grammarly

Grammarly
Grammarly is an online grammar checker that can search out and destroy your grammar and spelling mistakes. It can locate and correct hundreds of error types that go otherwise undetected in your word processor. Grammarly also offers synonym suggestions to increase the readability of your work. Did I mention it’s free?
It’s worth checking out. If you’re accustomed to using Microsoft Word for your grammar and spelling checks, you’ll be blown away by Grammarly’s superior proofreading.

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Hemingway App
The Hemingway App is a wildly popular online editor that improves your writing. It’s easy to read and aesthetically pleasing with all of its bright colors and large font size.
Get the readability grade for your prose. Hemingway App will break down the reading time, the amount of paragraphs, and the word count. It color codes the prose sentences to highlight problem areas, such as passive voice, adverbs, and difficulty to read.

paper-rater

PaperRater
PaperRater is an online grammar and spell checker. It does an in-depth analysis of your writing. PaperRater grades your work, checks for plagiarism, and suggests better words.
PaperRater offers two subscription types: basic (which is free) and standard. Basic gives you access to grammar and spell check, plagiarism analysis, writing suggestions, and scoring. The standard option is available starting at $7.95 per user per month. It includes everything from the basic list, but expands to offer ad-free usage, faster processing, and file uploads.

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ProWritingAid
ProWritingAid aims to help you improve your writing and readability. You can use this tool in MS Word, Google Docs, Scrivner, Chrome, and an API with ProWrtingAid.
Like PaperRater, ProWritingAid offers a free and premium version. In fact, it has two premium versions. https://prowritingaid.com/
In the free option, you can analyze up to 3,000 words. There is no interactive editing and it’s available online only.
For the first premium option, you’ll have access to everything in the free version, but you won’t be restricted by a pesky word limit. This option is $35 per year.
Now, if you’re really boss, you may want to go for ProWritingAid Premium+ (that’s a mouthful!). This option is available for $40 per year and includes a plagiarism checker that you can use up to 50 times per year.

slick-write

Slick Write
Online grammar checker Slick Write is fast and free—what more do you need? It edits your content for the usual suspects: adverbs, passive voice, and awkward phrasing.
What’s most impressive about Slick Write is it’s easy to use interface. Although it’s web-based, Slick Write has a slick setup. It’s easy to toggle between the five tabs across the top of the minimalist window, including editing, writing, analytics, thesaurus, and settings.
My favorite feature on Slick Write is the lightning fast thesaurus.

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SmartEdit
SmartEdit is a downloadable editing tool that works within MS Word or as a standalone version. Please note that SmartEdit is only available to Windows users, however they may in the future release a Mac version.
SmartEdit does 20 different types of checks on your content. This list includes checking for misspellings and misused words, looking for repeated phrases, and highlighting adverbs. It doesn’t automatically get rid of words in your content.
SmartEdit also searches for cliches, redundancies, and dialogue tags. After running your content through SmartEdit, you’ll have a good overview of your strengths and weakness in terms of your writing.

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WordRake
WordRake is another proofreading software for MS Word. Click on the rack button to activate this editor. It’ll check your content for cumbersome phrasing that could be muddling your story.
WordRake does not check your grammar or your spelling. Instead, you’ll have to rely on MS Word’s built in editing functions. It’s actually geared toward lawyers, but can work well for writers who need help with phrasing. WordRake helps you identify and remove phrases that don’t move your story forward.

Final Thoughts
Having an automatic editor is a great way to jumpstart your editing process. While it will never replace the sensitivity of a human editor, these tools can help you spot redundancy, adverbs, and other technical elements. Use it as your first step to self-editing before sending off your draft to be polished by professionals.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 2016 and has been updated for accuracy.

Book Review: Take Me Home

TAKE ME HOME, a romance by Nancy Herkness.
Claire takes a sabbatical from her job is New York City after a nasty divorce. She returns to her home town of Sanctuary, WV and finds more to the town than just a name. Claire adopts a ‘whisper horse’; a horse that will listen to your troubles and carry them away. At the stable, she meets Dr. Tim, a handsome hulk of a veterinarian who carries his own secrets and nightmares on those broad shoulders. The two bond over their love of horses, art, and a particular painting she owns.
Claire is beginning to understand how horses can heal when she introduces her nieces to her horse. Claire’s sister and the children are dealing with domestic abuse. All of them learn it takes strength and standing together to fight both physical and mental abuse.
Tim sees the healing powers of Claire through his own nightmares, literally. When she spends the night with him, he gets the first peaceful night’s sleep he’s had since his wife committed suicide several years ago. Yet his guilt causes him to push Claire away.
But whisper horses carry many burdens and Tim releases his to the horse. Now he can see how wrong he was to push Claire away. It doesn’t take long to find love can bring them together.
I found this a great read. Knowing the healing powers of horses, I can relate to the experiences of the protagonist. Ms. Herkness does an excellent job of crafting the sex scenes tastefully. She handled the two different POV’s skillfully and the book is well edited. (I’d like to get to know her editor!) It is an excellent summer beach read. I give this book four and a half stars only because the sex scenes weren’t necessary for me, personally.

Five Lies Writers Tell Themselves

I am guilty of all of these. It took seeing them in Inkitt Writer’s Blog to make them hit home. I am re-blogging them here for all those who put words to paper.

Being a writer is difficult. It’s a time-consuming, lonely craft, rife with pitfalls and mental traps. There are lies many writers tell themselves to keep themselves from becoming successful in their craft. They do this for various reasons—they’re afraid of progress, they don’t believe in themselves, or they’re fooling themselves. What lies do you tell yourself?
Here are five common ones:
#1 Being a writer is fun and easy.
Being a writer is not fun and easy. There are fun moments and there are easy moments. But great writing is difficult, and not very fun.
The way I like to think about great writing is through comparison with body-building. Stop and watch a body-builder for a moment. See their faces of discomfort, listen to their grunts. They don’t appear to be having “fun.” Yet, look at how strong they are! My heavens!
That’s because they have different reasons for doing this, as do strong writers. They’re doing it to achieve difficult goals and they’re succeeding because they’ve gone past the fun stage of their craft and ventured into the working stage. They get satisfaction from their work. Which, at the end of the day, is more worthwhile than simple fun.
#2 Writing is too difficult, so why try?
Yes, writing is a difficult craft, akin to mental weight-lifting. But that shouldn’t turn you away from it. Test yourself to see the truth that you could uncover and put on paper if you honed your craft.
The most common variation of this lie is the one where the would-be writer decides to give up on writing because they’ve lost hope of writing a best-seller. Because they’ve convinced themselves they’re not going to be published due to the supposed poor quality of their writing, there is no point to it.
That is ridiculous. Write for yourself, not for your ghostly agent. Yes, you should keep your audience in mind, but don’t take breaks in your work to look in mirrors to see if you’re starting to look like a writer yet.
The biggest moral you should take away from this article is: Write to better yourself and write constantly.
#3 All I need is the key to writing.
No one can teach you to become a writer. It’s that simple. They can teach you grammar, punctuation and vocabulary. They can teach you about character arcs, plots, clichés, points of view, and red herrings. They can tell you the habits of famous writers.
But the truth is, only you can teach yourself how to become a writer. They rest of us can just tell you about things that helped us along our own paths to becoming writers. There is no key to the city. No, wait, there is! The key is inside you…
It really is, though.
#4 I have nothing to write about.
This is just silly. Everyone has something to write about. If your complaint is you lead a dull life of quiet desperation where nothing happens, then there’s your story idea right there. All you need to supply is the event that happens to a person just like you when they step out of work on a fateful Tuesday.
If you’ve lived any amount of years on this world, you’ve seen enough to write about something. Everyone has a story to tell. And most of us have an imagination. So, use it!
#5 I don’t have the time to write.
If you’ve read any post of mine on InkItt, you’ll know this is my greatest enemy.
You have time to write. Get off your phone. Don’t binge-watch. Write in the bathroom. This is the easiest lie out of all of these to get yourself to stop believing.
The most important part of becoming a writer is writing. Find time, write. Think about writing. Think of everything through a writer’s lens—can you make it into a story? This is the path to becoming a writer and it is fraught with pitfalls and traps. But, the great part is, you set most of these traps yourself. Disarm, and never stop writing.

An Introduction to Copyediting

I complete the same course last month. Well worth the cost to help improve your own writing and help those you beta read for.

Meg Sorick, Author

I finished a month-long workshop on copyediting last week and learned a few new things. I was also relieved to find that I haven’t been making too many mistakes in my own writing. So what exactly does a copyeditor do? And what’s the difference between editing, copyediting and proofreading?

Copyeditors work in the world of publishing, whether it be book, newspaper, magazine publishing, or online publishing. Any industry which requires written material will need a copyeditor. The copyeditor will perform his or her complex set of tasks behind the scenes: fixing awkward sentences, correcting mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling, and checking that titles and other proper names are accurate. Copyediting is much more than proof reading; it requires a mastery of the rules of grammar and a desire to make the written word shine. A copyeditor will transform an awkward or clumsy sentence into one that is as smooth…

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More about dialogue — Meg Sorick, Author

After reposting my discussion about dialogue, I thought of a few more things to take into consideration when creating conversations between and among our characters. Their age – older people will use different terms and expressions from younger people. The references they choose will be age appropriate as well. People in their 20’s and 30’s aren’t […]

via More about dialogue — Meg Sorick, Author

He said, she said… Writing dialogue.

I have been working on a discussion about dialogue then ran across this blog by Meg Sorick. She said everything I was working with plus a few more items. Thanks, Meg, it was so good, I decided to reblog as I could never do the topic as well as you have,

Meg Sorick, Author

My writing is filled with dialogue. I’ve always played my stories out as films in my head and often wonder if they’d make good screenplays. After submitting some of my work for professional critique to a group of published writers and a couple of agents, I received positive feedback on the writing and on the dialogue in particular. The back and forth banter between characters should be natural, not stiff and formal. Sometimes the rules of grammar get bent or even broken! With that in mind, I decided to repost this short primer on writing dialogue for newer writers out there.  – Meg

In this post, I decided to cover a grammar topic that I had to brush up on when I began this writing journey. The stories I write tend to be filled with conversation and there are rules to follow closely and rules you can break with impunity. That’s the interesting…

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Happy New Year and May Love Find You

Here is a New Years wish to everyone out there: May love find you and put warmth into your year. I don’t mean a new human love, necessarily. It could be a great romance book that warms your heart. It could be a new animal that gives you a warm lick.

Romance means different things to each of us. What screams romance to you may leave me flat. That is why there are so many romance novels and poems out there. We sometimes forget that when reviewing other writers works. The romance works for me but it doesn’t work for you. However, there are lots of readers out there where it works so it is up to the writer to find those followers. It is also up to the reviewer to remember it is still a good story even if it wasn’t the type of romance the reviewer likes.

Most of us who write romance also read romance. But when I have read every Nora Roberts book, I have to find a new author that stirs me with the same emotions as Nora. Not an easy thing but they are out there. My Grandmother couldn’t get enough of Fern Michaels, yet I could never get into her books. Both authors are best sellers, yet what inspires one doesn’t inspire another.

What I am trying to point out is that a bad review from one doesn’t mean the book is bad; it just wasn’t that reviewers cup of tea. It is hard as writers to remember this as we seem to have fragile egos. Take a bad review as one persons opinion on one given day and go on to the next. Someone out there is going to love it, hopefully.

So hug a new puppy or kitten. Pick up a novel by a new author. Take a better look at those around you. You may find a new love is right around the corner this New Year.