Write What You Know...and Discover
Essay comes from a French word meaning, “to attempt.” In the sixteenth century, Michel de Montaigne, a Frenchman, wrote what most scholars believe to be the first essays. He categorized his writings as attempts to describe his thoughts and ideas, from the grief to the act of posting a letter.
I didn’t set out to become an essayist, much less an essayist on faith and horses. I began my writing career as a romance writer. I went to local meetings of romance writers and read romance novels. After all, if you want to write, you’d better read. I wrote short stories and chapters and eventually a whole book that involved a missionary and a soldier of fortune in Jamaica who save the world and fall in love.
To say my novel was an attempt at fiction writing is a generous assessment. Two editors from large publishing houses read it. Both rejected it. One said she liked my use of words and wondered if I’d considered non-fiction writing.
No. No I hadn’t. I wanted to write about exotic locales and create intricate, flawed characters and have book covers that make the reader catch her breath at their beauty. But my dreams of becoming the next great novelist went into a filing cabinet with my first novel when I went to seminary where I studied to become an Episcopal priest. Seminary meant writing papers about the significance of women mystics in the Middle Ages and memorizing Greek vocabulary. Seminary led to ordination, and ordination led to a full-time ministry as a priest.
I began to write non-fiction.
You’d probably call them sermons.
I wrote out my sermons each week. One day, one member of my congregation asked if she could have a copy, because she liked the way I used words. I gave her a copy, and I remembered that editor’s rejection of my fiction long ago.
So I began to write essays.
And I wrote. I eventually discovered the world of blogging. After more writing and blogging, editors discovered me and wondered if I’d be interesting in being published in a book.
Yes. Yes I would.
So now I write essays.
And one day, I wondered what I might discover if I wrote about God and horses. Writing essays are attempts at explaining and discovering the world we experience. They are words placed one in front of the other, moving towards something that is yet fully formed until the last sentence.
A common imperative in writing is write what you know. I start that way, until I wander into what I don’t know and have to stop and rest. For me, writing is a walk into a profound wilderness. I begin with words and sentences I know, until I realize I’ve wandered into a deep thicket of emotion and vulnerability and am lost among the sentences. Then I have to stop, find a log sturdy enough to hold the weight of my self and soul and sit. As I rest in this place, I explore what I’ve discovered.
If an essay is truly an attempt, that means, for me, that I will discover something I didn’t know as I write my way into the essay. I attempt to write as if I have any idea what I’m doing. I realize I rarely do.
Humility is a beneficial companion for writers.
But not, however, as beneficial as a stable filled with horses.
For this book, this collection of essays, when I’d written myself into the world of don’t know, I would find my way to the ones who did. I would go ride horses. They never failed to deliver their wisdom.
They reminded me of the power of words like “trot” and “halt” as well as the importance of no words at all as I sat deep or guided them with slight leg pressure to change direction. They pulled me out of my words and into my body, reminding me to feel and experience first, then describe. They nuzzled me and communicated that they trusted me with their stories not because I was great, but because I was learning.
Riding horses and writing essays are attempts, every single time. Some attempts end with feelings of accomplishments and accolades. Some attempts end with reminding myself that learning experiences are important, too, and being thankful that no one else saw…or read.
Horses Speak of God is a collection of attempts to share how I experience God in creatures who have held the devotion of humans for eons. I have worshipped God in the great cathedrals of our world, in the small chapels of our communities, and in the stalls of a barn. I am broken open and bound together by God in all these places. I am made whole by the spirit of God embodied in horses.
In the end, I wrote about the exotic locale of a barn in Kentucky, where intricate, flawed humans meet exquisite, inspiring, and, at times, rebellious horses in my attempt to share the grace and love they have shared with me.
And because horses are on the cover, I even got a book whose cover image makes me catch my breath at its beauty.
Horses Speak of God, published by Paraclete Press, is available now on Amazon and other online booksellers and at your local bookstore (we love supporting local bookstores!).