Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hay Is For Horses, Isn't It?

Hay Is For Horses, Isn’t It?

The word ‘hay’ has been in existence since before 12oo, according to my new Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, The Origins of American English Words (clapping hands together with glee!). According to the World Book Encyclopedia, ‘hay may be made up of cultivated grasses such as timothy, bluegrass, and redtop.’ World Book goes on to say that hay can also ‘be made from some of the wild, or prairie, grasses, Alfalfa, clover, velvet beans, rye, barley, and oats’. And, this ‘dried-plant food dates almost as far back as the taming of the horse’.

I’m a southern girl at heart, Texas born and bred, though I’ve lived all over the world. But lately, after spending many Sundays driving up to Tennessee to visit my father-in-law, who’d had surgery, I found myself taking note of the many hay bales dotting the countryside. Round monoliths weighing nigh to 1 ½ tons (actually 1.4 metric tons), the shapely/earthly sculptures caught my fancy. Soon I found myself wondering what it was about hay bales that intrigued me. Was it a reminder of the past glories of harvest time? A nod to simpler days when men were men and women outwitted them? (As an historical writer, I particularly love that one! )

Apparently, my fascination goes deeper. You see, when I look at a large round hay bale, I see a design that flows toward its center, swirling/curling to the focal point, the inner sanctum which can make or break a farmer’s harvest.

The round sculptured hay bale! Like a delicious chocolate dessert with a gooey chocolaty center pouring out onto a plate, I had an epiphany. You guessed it. Hay is a metaphor for writing. Indeed, my friends! When hay is baled wet and too soon, it spoils. Hay sweats. Therefore it becomes toxic when heated in a barn, a lethal weapon of destruction certain to destroy that which houses it.

Writing is like that for me. My stories need to cure in my mind, like hay needs to dry in the field. If I bale my harvest too soon and don’t give my ideas time to percolate, my characters, my plot ferment and mold, becoming unrecognizable, forcing me to rewrite again and again. If I follow through with preparation, allowing my ideas and plot to air/formulate, I prevent the ensuing motivation and conflict’s incineration. Further, if I keep, what I like to call, a character/plot book in which I can jot down character traits, names of the cast, backstory and important plot points, I house my story in a safe and adequate house.

If you bale it, horses will come. Okay, that sounds silly, but isn’t it true? Now, imagine that scenario with your writing. If you write from your center, agents and editors will love it. Readers will buy it. They will come to your house (the bookstore) and put down hard-earned money to own a piece of your harvest, which you as a writer have researched, prepared and stored properly for such an event. From the heart of a hay bale or a book, the reward is tangible. It all comes down to what’s inside.

Today, my wish for you is to think about your center. If you’re a writer, are you nurturing what inspires the muse, filling your well with positive influences and welcome praise for the smallest of everyday accomplishments as you achieve your writing goals? If you’re a reader, what books fill your well and what is it at the heart of a story that ignites your interest, be it historical or contemporary?



  1. Great allegory Kathy! I see hay all the time and I haven't ever looked at it that way. Must be the very creative part of your brain speaking! I envy you that lately.

    According to my mother I came into this world in a hurry (thirty minutes labor) and have been rushing around since. When a story idea comes into my head, I rush to write it down in my little notebook. Not fleshed out - just bare bones. Then I let it sit, maybe a month, maybe longer. Then I start writing without thinking about it. The characters dictate my directions (ok, the ideas are mine - I know) as I write. I stick to the outline, sort of. I just don't think a lot about the plot until I am sitting there writing. I can't make myself slow down.

    My well is pretty low right now. With all this heat I have been outside trying to save my horses. By the time I get inside I am too tired to do anything except crash. But - we are going to the beach next week and I will just sit, read and hopefully get back on track.

  2. Reading is a perfect way to refill the well, Cheryl. And believe it or not, your devotion to your horses will be also.

    Sounds like you're a panster, creating the basic idea, letting the characters speak to you, then sitting down to write the book. At conference, I discovered I may be more of a panster than I thought too.

    I know the temps are supposed to soar higher again today. Blessings to you as you minister to your babies throughout the day! :)

  3. I don't know about fermenting and molding, LOL, but my stories - scene by scene - certainly need time to air out. Sometimes it's only a couple of minutes, sometimes overnight, sometimes a week or more. I'm definitely a pantser, and I think the airing out time is probably a substitute for planning ahead. :)

  4. Lately I've felt like my hay was left in the field to rot. For too long I haven't been able to read or write, but that's changing. I thought being laid up with this foot surgery would give me the opportunity to do both, but what I'm finding is when I get horizontal to elevate the foot, my brain switches to sleep mode and I doze off. Grrrr.

  5. I have momentarily lost sight of my hay in the midst of our heavy additions/renovations. I'm preparing to embark on a quest of the highest order--the elusive toilet of my Dark Knight's desires. Meanwhile, my Muse is contemplating the placement of my Grail Tub, but that's okay--ideas are still churning in the Cauldron of Creation, so all is well. The words will flow again when the time is right.

    Wishing you luck with your horses, Cheryl. I'm sending healing thoughts your way, Playground Monitor.

  6. Don't they make bales anymore? You know, the oblong ones? My best friend in high school lived on a farm. Her daddy would hire local young bucks to bale hay in the summer. We would watch them. Often, we would swim while we watched them. Often, they would jump in with us on their lunch break. It made for a fine summer. Did you know that snakes get baled up with hay sometimes?

    Did anything I just said have anything to do with your blog?

    Pantster here.

    And while I am off topic anyway, I want everyone to know that Precious Angel got moved to first string varsity yesterday. What's even better--he called to tell me. I was gleeful. He was gleeful. "I was very happy between the throwing up," he said. I had forgotten about the throwing up at two a days.

  7. Barbara, the molding/fermenting aspect of writing doesn't sound appealing, does it? Perhaps, 'no wine is served before it's time' is more appropriate. LOL! I've just discovered that I may be more of a panster than I thought. Instead of detailing my plot, it may be more 'air' I'm after, freedom to fly or as one of our most respected RWA chapter member's suggested, 'giving ourselves permission to meander'. In that, great books are born. Thanks for posting with us today! ;)

    PM, I know you can do this! Getting over surgery is hard. Give yourself permission to rest up. There will be plenty of time to dive back in to your writing when you're better. Never forget this time can be what refills your well. You're a very talented writer! The muse will tickle your fancy very soon. :D

    Crystal, your hay is your house right now. I challenge you to ponder this while the project is being completed. Liken your addition to your manuscript. The bones have been laid, walls erected, plans arranged. Watch how the pieces come together. There just might be some surprising revelations in store. ;)

    Jean, mega congratulations for Precious Angel!! Now you will have plenty of reason to break out those spectator chairs! :D

    They do make square bales. I know many mazes are erected close to Halloween with those kind of bales and they are sold at Hardware stores too. Farmers, however, seem to prefer the large round bales, at least around here and I'm just mesmirized by the shape. They are like humongeous green pinwheels erected haphazardly across the landscape.

    Another thing about round hay bales. Most often they are wrapped in a net of sorts to make transporting them easier. But even nets must wait until the bale is completely dry. Those nets can symbolize edits and revisions. But perhaps I dig too deep...

  8. Yes, Kathy, I think you're right. Those revelations are tickling the back of my mind. The manuscript I thought was ready to go really isn't quite ready, after all. And I firmly believe in the sentiment no wine served before its time. Rushing the moment is definitely not cool.

    Excellent post, Kathy!

  9. Square bales are all I can feed my horses who are in stalls because I have no where to store the round bales. Can't feed horses any hay that has been exposed to the elements (mold). Round bales are for the cows unless you can store them inside and even then I only feed them to the pasture horses. Enough already - I can go on ad nauseum about hay. And, not that you wanted to know, when you feed, the hay gets in some interesting places...

    Jean - Isn't Precious Angel on my hometown team? Congrats to him! Hope to see you here in the fall!

    My muse packed and went north for the summer. She ought to be returning soon, maybe.

  10. Cheryl--If a horse ate a rattlesnake would it kill him? The horse. I'm pretty sure the snake couldn't survive the digestive process.

    Precious Angel is not on your hometown team. He went to elementary school there while his mother taught at the high school. They are teaching/going to school in town now--thankfully at different schools.

    I doubt the muse is gone. I'll bet there's a story playing in your head--or at least a character. Maybe even just a line of dialogue. But it all starts somewhere.

  11. Never thought about hay bales in that way Kathy! I actually dread when they bale the hay across the road from my house. It makes all kinds of critters run to a safer place (my house!) and I don't like critters. And then there's the chance of fire if they bale it before it's completely dried out. They've had to put out a few before. But I will be looking at them in a different perspective now. And to make sure they're not smoking!

    Kathy, you constantly amaze me with your creative insight! I'm guessing I need to drag out my copy of The Artist's Way and get back in tune with my creative self! :-)

  12. I like the smell of newly cut hay and those rounds in Tennessee are so neatly set in the fields. I love your examples to writing. You have hit it on the head dead on. Thanks for pointing all these great points out.

  13. Jean - I don't think a horse would eat a rattlesnake . I've had a few desiccated snakes in the hay bales and the horses won't even eat the hay. I also had a horse that was bitten by a rattlesnake in his chest. He swelled up like a toad. The vet, a new one with little experience, came in and pushed on the fangs marks, pumping more venom into the horse. The horse collapsed sideways and the young vet kept saying he'd killed the horse. That horse, Biscuit, lay there a while, then got up. He didn't die. Horses don't generally die from snakebite, vets maybe...

    I agree Sherry, I hate when they bale hay but my cats love it - lying in wait for everything from mice to baby rabbits (yuk). I have never read The Artist's Way, sounds interesting.

  14. Kathy, your insight continues to light the path of lowly plotters like me.

    I have never thought of hay as such an interesting subject. Boys hauling hay, yes, but not the actual hay itself.

  15. Wow! We southern girls are learning more about hay today than planned, especially Stephanie's idea of watching boys haul it. Woo-hoo! I like that idea!

    Cheryl and Jean, I never thought snakes got caught up in the hay and it never occured to me what horses/cows would be eating.

    Cheryl, maybe your muse is waiting for you at the beach? ;)

    Paisley, hay does smell very good. I love the smell of freshly cut grass! Will success smell as sweet?

    Sherry, what a revelation! Rats/field mice run from the baler into barns and homes. Eck! Guess I never thought of that consequence. Must have many good barn cats around to save the day, I suppose. Perhaps, plotting partners and brainstorming groups can be our barn cats protecting our manuscripts from vermen infected with writer's block. ;)

  16. Who knew that there was so much to think about when considering hay? Thanks for the new view on the subject. The sweet smell of hay . . .We don't get that much where I live in Cali.

  17. Suzi! Great to see you here. Thanks for posting. Don't forget to come back now, hey-yah! ;)

  18. Kathy, your blog also applies to art. When I paint from my center, it shows. And, I am also healing from surgery, so to whomever is also healing from surgery: I have noticed that the healing takes a lot of my creative energy. Think of the healing as needing centering, too, and let the energy go there. Your body will reward you with energy for creative writing later!
    As usual, late with the posting and now off topic! Michelle

  19. Funny you should mention that, Michelle. I went to art school. I agree with you about healing. Creativity flows from within. If my body is using up all its energy to stay heal/rejuvenate, that's when I find myself the least able to create. At those times, it's best to refill the well by reading or possibly plotting.

    I'm glad you stopped by and posted even though this blog is old. Come and see us again! ;)