Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 4: Find Your Voice.

Call me an idiot, but I have never understood the admonition to writers to “find your voice.” What does it mean, anyway?
First of all, if there is such a thing as a “voice” how can you not have one? Then, assuming you do have a “voice,” why would you want only one?
Now, if you are a columnist or commentator, I can see how you would want to develop a particular, recognizable writing style. And if you’re writing a memoir or autobiography, it certainly ought to read—sound—like the whole thing comes from the same pen (mouth?).
But if you’re writing a magazine article for, say, Cosmopolitan, it certainly should not sound the same as a story you’re writing for True West. There, it seems the “voice” should be that of the publication and the story. And you wouldn’t want your Old West romance novel to read like your modern-day mystery novel. In fiction, it seems it’s the characters who ought to have “voices,” not the author. Each poem, each song, each short story likewise should speak for itself, in whatever “voice” best tells the story.
Of course I could be wrong, lacking as I am in a literary education. But when it comes to finding my “voice,” I don’t even know where to look.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Swapping horse stories with Alan Day.

A few years ago, H. Alan Day co-authored the ranch memoir, Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest, with his sister, Sandra Day O’Connor.
Not long ago, he wrote The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs. It’s the story of how he built Mustang Meadows Ranch, the first government-sponsored wild horse sanctuary established in the United States. In addition, the book relates a wealth of stories about the author’s lifelong love of horses, with tales of his adventures and misadventures. I was asked to review the book for Roundup Magazine and I wrote, among other things, “Those who don’t know horses will find this book an engaging introduction. Readers who do will find themselves nodding in understanding page after page.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Day at the Western Writers of America convention a few months ago. He’s a cowboy through and through and as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet. He asked me to write a little something about horses for his web site ( At the site, you’ll learn more about Alan and his remarkable book, The Horse Lover. My “guest” post is here:
Stop by and visit Alan Day. He’d love to swap horse stories with you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Going to see Jeff Wolf’s “Rodeo.”

Last week I took a road trip to Idaho to visit the Gooding County Fair and Rodeo. The photograph above is the reason why.
That’s Jeff Wolf, a man I have known since we were boys. For many years now, Jeff has been a Western sculptor of some renown. His work is on display in several galleries, museums, homes, and other places around the West. (Visit
His latest piece of public art is the monumental sculpture at this side. It’s called “Rodeo,” a remarkable sculpture featuring bareback, saddle bronc, and bull riders and their mounts intertwined in a beautiful dance. The action and motion captured in the statue are remarkable—looking at the cold bronze you can almost feel the hot breath and hear the slap of leather and smell the dust.
Jeff and the making of “Rodeo” will be featured in an article I wrote for an upcoming issue of Ranch & Reata magazine ( Watch for the magazine. And next time you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the Gooding County Fairgrounds and see “Rodeo” first hand.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 3: Writer’s Block.

Sometimes you just can’t do it. You try, but there’s nothing there. You stare and stare at an empty page or blank screen and it just stares back at you. And the more you think about it, the more you worry, the worse it gets.
Writer’s block, they call it.
Some folks in the literary business bemoan the fact that such an affliction can befall would-be writers. Then they devise all sorts of remedies and exercises to rid you of the malady: Go for a walk. Change your routine. Consume caffeine. Do something else, instead. Try free writing. Or visualization. Whine about it to fellow writers. And so on.
Some of the best writers I know don’t believe in writer’s block. And if they do, they ignore it and write anyway. It’s probably no coincidence that many who pay writer’s block no mind come from journalism or advertising or other disciplines where deadlines are an everyday occurrence. When something has to be written, it’s your job to write it. So you do. You collect your thoughts (quickly), fire up the computer, and clack away at the keys until you’ve finished writing, rewriting, and revising the work at hand. Then you turn it in and get on to the next job.
Whether it’s an advertising agency, a newspaper, a public relations firm, a magazine, a marketing department, or any number of other places were your job is to write and getting paid depends on doing the job, there’s just no time for the angst and anxiety and anguish (and absurdity) of writer’s block. And what you learn by writing on demand carries over to writing in what may be less demanding circumstances—a novel, say. Or a short story. A poem. A magazine article. A biography. You write.
Assuming there is such a condition as the dreaded writer’s block, there can only be one cure for it: get to work. Write.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part Two: Develop a Routine.

Set aside a time, a place, a situation for writing. Immerse yourself in the appropriate milieu for motivation. It might be a certain style of background music, or maybe it’s silence. Brightly lit, perhaps, or softly illuminated. Have your favorite thesaurus at hand, and align the proper number of freshly sharpened number two pencils. But whatever you do, however you do it, you must—must—create an environment that turns your attention inward and focuses your concentration on your art; an ambience that filters out distractions and informs your mind and body that it’s time to write.
That’s the kind of thing I've heard over and over again about how to write.
It might work for some. Maybe. But why limit your ability, your opportunities, to write to a certain confined situation? Why not write anywhere, anytime?
I have written while all by myself and when surrounded by family. In private and in public. At desks and at kitchen tables. Indoors and outside. In offices and airports and hotel rooms. On a computer. A notepad. A scrap of paper. With and without music and while sitting in front of the TV or listening to the radio. In bed, on the couch, on the porch, at the library, in restaurants, on the bus.
If I’ve spent any time there, chances are I’ve written something there.
Manufactured surroundings and invented schedules might sound like an effective way to free yourself to write. On the other hand, such machinations may prove so confining, so restrictive, they smother the muse. It might work for some. It may even work for you. But, despite what proponents of predictability preach, it ain’t necessarily so.
Instead, write. Just write. Wherever and whenever the opportunity arises.
The words don’t care.