Tuesday, May 11, 2010
How writing is, and is not, like music
For those of you who don't know, I am a flute nerd (So are my friends Megan and Nicole.). I studied it in school, and I currently play in one flute choir, one chamber orchestra, and one other orchestra. We just had a really fun concert last Saturday because there was chocolate after we finished playing. Also, we were very lucky to have the composer of one of our pieces (Crawford Gates) conduct for us. I'll be sure to post some music once I get a recording.
Here are some ways that a flute concert and a novel are the same.
1. Lots of different hats.
We trade instruments a lot so that no one gets deaf from playing piccolo or loses an arm from holding up the bass flute. In writing, you have many different characters and voices who sound very different from one another.
2. Skills build upon each other.
Just like you learn to read and write different sounds, words, and then sentences, you learn to play sounds, notes, and phrases, and these skills eventually help you to create something you can share with other people.
3. Practice makes better.
Not perfect, but if you keep working at it, you'll learn and get better.
4. The market.
Once in college, my teacher found out another student had been crying because she didn't get into the orchestra she wanted. "She has no idea," my teacher said. "The conductor just wanted a piccolo player with a certain style (I think it might have been a softer sound, but I don't remember for sure). So I chose someone else. It didn't have anything to do with her playing ability." Sometimes, publishers have to buy what will sell. If you get rejected, it doesn't always mean you can't write.
Here's how they're different.
1. No revisions during concerts allowed.
There were a few times during the concert that I thought, "Please, can we stop and revise that last measure 'cause it totally sucked?". I don't think that would have gone over too well.
2. The role of the group.
You can write with your friends, but writing is still a mostly solitary endeavor. You can't blend words when reading them aloud the same way you blend musical sounds, 'cause if you did, nobody could hear you. Even soloists usually have someone to accompany them. But writing is all about butt in chair. Musicians still spend hours in a practice room, but for them, it's all about whether or not they can make it in the moment, in front of someone else. They don't have a bulk of paper they can print out to say, "Hey! Look what I did!"
3. The role of the conductor.
You'd better listen. What you want to do with your music doesn't matter as much as the sound of the group. But when you write, it's your novel, not Tchaikovsky's, and you have a lot more say in the final product.