07 Mar

Writing Lessons from My Violin

Posted in Music, Process, Writing

I have a love-hate relationship with my violin the same way I have a love-hate relationship with writing.  There are many similarities between my writing life and my violin life.  In fact, lot of important lessons I’ve learned about writing, came from playing the violin for so many years.

1)  Practice your scales.  Anyone who plays an instrument has spent hours (maybe even days) practicing nothing but scales, arpeggios and etudes.  Why do we bother with all that pointless stuff?  I mean, it’s not like I’d ever perform my C# melodic minor at a recital.  Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of practicing something if you’re never going to perform it?

On the contrary, it’s important to find time for scales even if it means the thing we’re practicing won’t “pan out” or “become something” later on.  In writing, I’ve learned that even if a book or story doesn’t reach the ready-to-submit stage, that doesn’t make it any less worthy than projects that have.  This is why it’s important build some time into our writing schedule for scales… er, I mean writing exercises.

2)  Do not practice in public.  As a kid, I used to hate it when I’d go to music school and the other kids would hang around before class and noodle on their violins.  I call this faux-practicing.  It isn’t real practice because real practice doesn’t look so effortless and flashy.  Faux-practice is showing off; it’s performing but making it look like practice.  How do I know this?  Because every musician knows that real practice is not something you do in public.  Real practice is embarrassing and messy and downright ugly.  And it’s best kept behind closed doors.

When it comes to writing, I often have that impulse to let people see my work when it’s still in the “practice” phase.  I suppose I let people into my practice space prematurely because otherwise they won’t believe I’m actually writing.  The violin kid inside has helped me gain the strength to tell people: “Back off.  I’ll show you when I’m ready.”

3)  Sometimes you have to suck it up and do it.  Every morning from the age of 4 on, I would spring out of bed and say to myself: “Aw yeah!  I get to practice the violin today!”  And if you believe that then I’ve got some beautiful ocean-front property in Nevada that I’d like to sell you.

Playing an instrument–much like writing–is one of the ultimate tests of delayed gratification.  After all, you spend endless hours alone in a room, practicing for a goal that could be months or years away.  The only thing that gets you through is knowing that the when you reach the prize at the end, it’s going to be worth it.  Otherwise, why would you torture yourself like this, right?  The answer lies in lesson #4.

4)  You have to love the work, even if it’s only some of the time.  If you don’t, you will be miserable.  After all, what if the end-goal turns out not to be as great as you expected?  Or what if you get on that stage and screw up so royally you can never show your face in music school again?  While it’s important to grit your teeth and practice toward a goal, you also need to love the practice in and of itself.  Sure, I was never one of those kids who practiced until her fingers bled or her parents tore her away from the instrument, but there was a certain satisfaction that always came from a productive practice session.

Same with writing.  Of course you want to have some lofty dreams or goals to keep you motivated but in the end, if writing is painful for you, then maybe you should consider something that brings you more joy.

Because it all comes down to joy.  I write for those moments when the story suddenly clicks and makes sense or when characters surprise me.  I write even in those times when it seems more like work and less like fun.  I write because sooner or later, it stops feeling like practice and starts feeling like joy.

What about you?  What is it about writing that gives you joy?


Comments on this post

  1. Ghenet says:

    I like your comparison. Are those pics of mini-you? Too cute!

    1. Yat-Yee says:

      I agree, mini you is adorable.

      I just had the same conversation with my 8-year old son today about practicing his instrument. I assured him that he'll, at different times, be bored, disinterested with it and will even hate it on occasion. He needs to go through those experiences to become better.

      You know, I did experience something very close to the can't-wait-to-practice days in my teen years. I was practicing so much that my parents and brother had to ask me to stop. That was a magical time in my piano career.

      1. Gabriela Pereira says:

        Ghenet: Yep, those are pics of mini-me at my very first recital ever! As you can tell, even at that tender age, I had an obsession with all things pink.

        Yat-Yee: I would add one thing to what you said about practicing and that's that playing an instrument can take you to amazing places, but you'll never know what those are unless you practice. I was never a virtuoso, but I had a lot of fun playing violin in high school and college. Not to mention that studying violin made me a better writer as an adult.

        Also, that's so wonderful that you had those magical piano days (and as a teen to boot!) I'm a smidge jealous because always wanted them but it never quite happened for me, at least not with the violin. With writing, it's a whole other story. 🙂

        1. ju says:

          Mini-Gabisinha! So cute!

          It's BECAUSE of the faux-practicers that I decided not to become a professional musician.

          Great comparison. In my experience, I've found that when it comes to the violin, it's not so much about the end product, but the process to get there (hence the practice practice practice). And if all that practice results in an awesome concert…well, then, it looks like you've done something right!

          1. Anonymous says:

            I loved mini-gabi then, and I love her now.

            1. Kari Marie says:

              I loved this post. You are so right about practicing even when it's hard or you don't feel like it. Somedays writing is harder than others but the payoff is worth it.

Iggi & Gabi - All rights reserved © 2010-2011

I am a HowJoyful Design by Joy Kelley