One of the things that a musician must learn to do is how to make their music sing. It’s one thing to be able to play the notes and master the rhythm; it’s an entirely different thing to make it sound musical. There are tempos to be followed, crescendos and decrescendos to give the music its own brand of vibrancy, staccatos to give it that extra pizzaz, and dozens of other musical elements that, when included into the performance of the music, give the song a life of its own.
That was one of the most difficult things for me as a fledgling piano player to master. For a long while all I could see were those notes on the page. My fingers were having a difficult enough time just finding all the right keys, let alone giving them personality. But that is what the master piano player, the teacher, is for, to push the student beyond their capabilities and stretch to accomplish new heights of musical expression. The teacher shows the student how the formulaic rhythm of the piece can be more than the sum of its parts, more than just technique. When the performer pours his heart and soul into the composition, suddenly you find that it has a life of its own. The technique of playing has found the artistry of expression, and a new creature springs to life from the fingers of musician at the keyboard.
As in music so it is in writing. Composing stories and tales involves much more than mere technique. I’ve always been something of a grammar Nazi, a strictly regimented enforcer of the ‘rules’ of the English language. In high school I devoured grammar and spelling books to the point where my classmates hated having me proofread any of their work. Invariably, I would return their manuscripts, covered in red ink where I found spelling, grammar, and syntax errors, and they would groan as they worked to revise them.
At the time I thought that was enough to become a good writer, if I had so chosen. Yet, now I am learning that technique alone is not enough to produce an interesting and captivating story. There is an art to writing, something that should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has read a novel or short story. But it is something that is not readily seen or understood until one takes on the challenge of creating a story of their own. It becomes apparent in short order just how difficult it is to weave that level of artistry into a story – to select that just-right word or phrase, to establish that perfect setting, to weave that stunning character profile – that refuses to let the reader put the book down and simply walk away. It requires practice and effort to create something so sublime, and often it takes a master teacher to help guide the fledgling writer along as they seek to better their craft.
One of the things that I have loved so much about networking with other writers is this ability to share and compare notes, to share some of the scraps of our writing in hopes of gaining honest, constructive criticism. This criticism is sometimes hard to swallow – none of us like to be told that our work is less than perfect – but it is invaluable in the longrun to becoming better writers and authors. It is a risk to share these things that are so dear to our hearts, but it is, I believe, a risk worth taking.
Here’s to helping one another along to becoming masterful artists in the art of wordcraft.