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Feeding the Goats

February 21, 2012

Some eleven years ago, we bought our place in Springfield. Almost immediately, my dad said that we needed to buy some goats to help clean up the brush and limbs that cluttered up patches of trees surrounding the house. He had grown up with goats and said they would eat just about anything. I had grown up in a subdivision in Nashville and said that I had no business raising goats.

A few years back, my oldest son began dating, and eventually married, our dear daughter-in-law, Heather. When all of us would drive anywhere together, she was always the first to spot farms with goats and confessed she always had wanted to have some.

The perfect storm finally came together when I caught up with a long time friend who had retired some years back. One thing led to another and she brought out her smartphone to show me photos – of her grandchildren, I presumed. Instead, she showed me photo after photo of her new “babies,” her goats. She and her husband had a tract of land out in Wilson County and a few goats turned into a couple a hundred.

“Goats,” I said. “Why that’s what my dad and daughter-in-law have been trying to get me to raise.”

“No problem,” she replied. “I’ve got you covered.”

And just like that, I became a goat farmer.

Now before I make this out to be more than it is, we started with two, increased to six and now we’re back down to two. We decided that, for the goats’ sake, we would only take care of two during the first winter to make sure we could handle them. Turns out that it hasn’t been much of a winter and they’ve really not been much of a problem.

What does raising goats have to do with writing and creativity? Well, several things actually.

1.    I learned that when you have livestock, you have to tend to it, regularly, faithfully. You can’t say, “well I really don’t have time today,” or “you know, I’m just not in the mood to feed and water.” Nope. It’s a commitment to a living things. You must feed and water, twice a day every day, regardless of weather, of how you feel, regardless of other commitments. You must feed and water.

It is the same with your art. When you are lucky enough to recognize your calling as an artist, you make a commitment to that calling. You must tend to it in some shape, form, or fashion, every day. There are things we do every day that aren’t nearly as important as our art. But we do them every day. Practicing your craft is no different. Make a commitment. Make it a priority. Make you a priority.

2.    When cold weather was about to hit, I decided to make a shelter that would not only keep the rain and snow out, but would keep ample straw dry for insulation. I built it, lined it and filled it with straw and walked away proudly. And it was a good first draft. But the goats, as well as our guard dog, Louise the Great Pyrenees, loved to hop up on top of the plywood roof and play. They would chase each other around and hop and flip and jump. And much like the homes that the little pigs built of straw and sticks, it didn’t last long. So I’ve had to retool my design and construction a few times until I got it right. When I initially built the structure, I didn’t really understand it and its purpose.

In all but very few cases, the first draft isn’t the final draft. We should applaud ourselves for completing a first draft of anything. As they say, without first drafts, there are no second or third drafts. But it is just that. A first draft. When we finish our first draft, we should play with it a bit to see if it will withstand the winds of craft. Does it stand up to the leaps of logic and bouncing plot lines? Does it hold up to the pacing through which the characters put it? A story or a novel is not a simply a collection of words. It is more than a number of pages, however beautifully bound. It requires an understanding heart and a diligent eye. It requires ruthless editing and untiring dedication and polish. But in the end, when it’s done right, it will withstand the elements. It will stand on its own.

3.    Although some people may be born with a natural talent for raising goats, I am not one of those people. I had to buy books on the care and feeding of goats. Prior to the purchase of such manuals, I had no idea that male goats are called “bucks” and females, “does,” just like deer. I had no clue about when they could be bred, what they liked to eat and when, and how to help prevent disease. Most anyone knows how to look at and pet goats but generally you must learn how to raise and take care of goats.

During my first workshop as an MFA in Writing student I quickly learned that although I knew how to read and appreciate good stories, I didn’t have a good grasp of craft and the language of craft. I could tell you that I loved to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” but I couldn’t take the story apart and tell you why. And while it’s not important for readers to understand why they appreciate art, it is vital for the artist to understand the mechanics involved with the creation of art, to know why it is working or why not. You need to talk the language, know the terminology. But even more important, you need to understand how to use your craft to bring life to your works.

There are many other things I have learned and I will continue to share them from time to time. But for now, I will say that I have learned much about writing and life from my little friends.

That, and it’s time to go feed.

Tip of the Week – For one week, write as early in the morning as you can manage. Do not check your email or Facebook or Twitter account until after you’ve spent at least 15 minutes at the page and more if you can. In fact, if it’s your writing morning, stay to the page until at least 11 a.m. before checking your electronics. Give those around you an alternative if they really must get in touch with you. Otherwise, give yourself the freedom and permission to just write until time is up. And if you don’t have the luxury of writing until 11, set aside as much time as you can. After one week, evaluate how it’s worked, revise as necessary and begin week two. Let this jumpstart you into your own writing routine.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012 11:53 am

    Excellent thoughts, Terry! I plan to share this with my students who are struggling with revision this week.

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