I’m lucky enough to own a beautiful mare named Belle. She’s half-Andalusian and half-Morgan, and a gorgeous gray. She just turned 16 a couple weeks ago.
If you don’t know horses, you might not realize that 1) most of the “white” horses you see are actually grays, and 2) gray horses always start out as a different “normal” horse color. They might be black, or bay (brown with black mane, tail, and lower legs), chestnut/sorrel (a coppery color all over), even paint (spotted). Eventually though, they all end up like my mare Belle is now.
Check out the “before” (when she was about 4 years old) and “after” (taken yesterday at age 16). Yes, same horse.
Another interesting fact about gray horses is that in some breeds (Andalusian & Lipizzaner, for instance), nearly all the horses in that breed are gray. In others (Morgans, for instance) few are gray. So a non-gray Andalusian is very desireable, and a gray Morgan would be quite unique. Another fun fact: since a gray horse starts out looking non-gray, breeders will send DNA (hair) to testing labs such as at UC Davis to test for color. If they have a black Andalusian, they want to know for certain it’s going to stay black, especially if they’ll be breeding the stallion or mare.
I didn’t bother testing Belle’s DNA since she was already a dark dapple gray when I bought her. She’s half-Morgan (her dam was chestnut) and half-Andalusian (her sire was gray), and I guess the gray won.
That’s her at age 8 to the left. You’ll notice that although her body is quite dark, her face is nearly white. Horses tend to start graying on their face. That white star on her forehead you can see it in the first picture above has blended in with her white face.
So what does this have to do with writing? Well, on the surface, nothing. But it got me thinking about two ways writing and a writer changes and matures just like a gray horse does. First, writing matures through revision, which I talked about in my last blog post. You could say a book matures from its infant self (the rough draft), to its grade-school self (first read-through), to its teen self (post-developmental edit re-write, to its adult self (polished final draft) throughout the stages of revision.
The second way a writer and her writing matures is through time and experience. That’s mainly experience as a writer, but also experience with the outside world. Years and the kind of life led (different for everyone) change perspective. The things you see happening to others, or participate in yourself, can all become fodder for your writing. What happens in your particular life will change your writing and improve your ability to write your characters and describe their experiences.
That’s not to say that someone in their teens couldn’t write an elderly character, for instance. I don’t have to be a man to write a male character. I don’t have to be an evil villain to write one. I just have to observe, ask questions, and use my imagination.
But my years (do I have to mention how many?), maturity, and the experience that comes from writing 20+ books have led me to write that male character or that evil villain much differently than how I would have written him a couple decades ago. In fact, I am right now revising a 20-year-old book from my backlist so I can indie-publish it. While I’m pleasantly surprised that most of the writing holds up, some of the characterization doesn’t. I’ve learned tons more about character since I wrote this book. I also noticed signs of “first time author syndrome” throughout that early book. Overuse of adverbs, trying too hard with descriptive passages, clunky dialogue. What seemed to work twenty years ago I realize has to be revised. Seeing it through the lens of a couple decades of intense experience writing novels makes all the difference.
So, two lessons to be learned from this. 1) you’re going to write some great stuff early in your writing career. Some of it will be beautiful, just like Belle was a real looker as a 4-year-old (yes, I found a way to turn this back around to horses). 2) You’re going to continually learn and grow and improve. When you look back at your earlier prose, you might cringe. But you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you got better as you matured as a writer. Your writing developed and became even more gorgeous (just like Belle :-)).
Have you seen that progression already? If so, what’s one thing about writing you’ve learned with experience? Or if you’re not a writer, is there another area of expertise in which you’ve learned and grown? I’d love to have you share in the comments. Tell it to the hoof!