Sunday, June 10, 2012

Beauty Takes Work

My daughter looks so beautiful.  Hair brushed out and styled, wearing a pretty dress, perched on the piano bench she looks like a Victorian watercolor.  As her long, slender fingers move up and down the keyboard, I recall the hard work that went into perfecting her songs.  The hours of practice, learning each piece section by section.  Playing them over and over until she can do them without the music.  And, even farther back, to when she first began to identify the keys on the piano, decipher the notes on the sheet music and then match the keys to the written music.  Only the pianist and those close to her know how much work, time, frustration and joy has been poured into learning to play.

Writing is like that, too.  When I watch a novelist during a TV interview, dressed by a stylist, hair and make up applied just so, it all looks so easy and glamorous.  And if you don’t think men need make up on TV, check out the 1960 tape of Nixon debating Kennedy.  Just saying.

The author kicks back against the low-backed, neutral-colored sofa while the interviewer asks questions.  They chat about how they developed the characters, how long it took them to write the story and how it’s close to their heart.  The audience has an image of days spent in front of the keyboard in some beautiful setting, fashionably dressed, sipping their beverage of choice out of crystal stemware.

There might be people out there who write this way.  It’s just that I’ve never met one.  Most people I talk to put on their most comfy and usually their most hideous outfit.  I’ve often found that the stylishness of an outfit is inversely proportionate to its comfort.   They write when and where they can, pushing for word counts or pages, and trying to wring just a little bit more from themselves before they stop. 

Sometimes as I’m writing, I can’t stop thinking that this is the biggest pile of crap I’ve ever seen.  But I try to keep going anyway in the hopes that at least some of what I’m putting to paper will be worth keeping, especially after editing. 

Writing has glamorous moments, especially if you are published.  Mostly, though, its just hard work.  Work I like most days.  If I didn’t, there’s no way I would do it.  Sitting on the sofa watching TV in the evenings is easy.  But it doesn’t bring the satisfaction that writing does.

I watch my daughter take her final bow.  I see the satisfaction on her face derived from working hard at something, succeeding, and then sharing it with others.  That’s what writers do—we work hard, reach for success, and then share it with others. 

I’d love to hear how you interpret your own sheet of music.  Tell me about what has worked for you in the past with regards to getting your writing completed, revised and, if you have done so, published. 


  1. I'm with you, Lisa. Thinking about how that manuscript will look at the end--and not how it looks right now--is what keeps me going on any project.

    The beauty is in the details. In all that doing and shaping and tweaking. Ugh! Hard work! But worth it for that sense of accomplishment! Besides, if we didn't go through all that rough stuff, meaning the process of writing, there's no way we'd ever get published!

    Here's to that search for beauty. And writing, writing, writing!

  2. Hi Lisa! I took up piano again for a semester in college. This time it wasn't Mom nagging me into practising. I set the pace, I put my butt on the bench, my fingers - literally - on the keyboard. I loved it.

    I never gained musical fluency, but I did get addicted to working at it. Your post is a reminder to me of that sheer sense of satisfaction I had each time I plunked out a tune - and the thrill I have today when a scene comes together. I hit the notes, maybe some are flat and should be sharp or sharp and should be natural. But I'm hitting them (in my ratty old pj's). And that's what counts.

  3. A few friends and I decided we were going to make May a Fast Draft month. I was completely blocked at the time, hadn't written a word of fiction in months and months, but I signed on anyway. No idea what I was going to write. No kernel of an idea. I started from scratch on May 1 and wrote every day. About a week into the month I had my idea and my main characters and I was aiming for 1500 words a day. It was hard slogging but I got some good stuff and I did write Every Day in May. Now I'm in the process of taking the crappy fast draft and turning it into a better second draft. One with an antagonist, even.

  4. Nichole - I agree! You have to keep your eye on the prize and not look at all of the flaws of the manuscript while you're creating it. I try to have some fun with that shaping process while I'm doing all that hard work.

  5. Hi Keely - I think that music teaches you patience with regards to staying with something until you have mastered it.

    No one can play perfectly the first time that they play something. Except maybe my daughter's piano teacher. That woman is GOOD!

  6. Evie - That IS hard work. How wonderful that you weren't sure what you were going to do when you started and now you have an idea, main characters AND an antagonist. All that and a bag of chips!

  7. What a lovely image you've conjured of a girl at the piano and all the hard work that goes into those few moments of music.

    As a singer with over thirty-five years of experience, I know what you mean. I can remember rehearsals that left me in tears as I learned how to sing in German, Italian, where to put the "d" of Lord, and how sing over the note not scoop up to it from below.

    It all comes naturally to me now but that is after years of study and practice. I've been writing a nanosecond of time in comparison to my singing. Yet I expect to be perfect. Right now. Every time.

    I'm staring at a heap of revisions that add up to a change of motivation for my main character in almost every chapter. It makes me want to cry to think about it.

    Hmmm. Seems familiar. Seems I had these growing pains in another art form I hold dear. Yet, I'm 52. Do I have another 30 years to perfect this craft?

    Well, maybe it won't take 30 years to do the writing equivalent of sending a song soaring into the air and hitting a high B flat.

    Lisa, thanks for bringing up the topic for me to consider. I'm feeling a little less teary!

  8. Beautifully written, Lisa! And what a good point, that as writers who've struggled to create, we can appreciate how hard another artist has probably worked to honor his or her own calling. You must be very proud of your daughter! I'm still trying to figure out my own process--but always in my ratty jammies. :-) At the moment my problem is staying focused, so I set a timer and allow myself regular breaks--it does seem to help, reminding myself that if I can just write until that timer goes off, I'll be eligible for that snack or walk or whatever else gets me away from the laptop for a little while.

  9. Great post (as always, Lisa)! You're right. Others often make the writing life look so easy when it's not. It's hard work every single time. Sitting in a chair for hours, pounding away at a keyboard is hard. It takes discipline. What I have found is that if I write every day, the story comes out of me easier. Just like the discipline of practicing the piano that you mention . . . if I write every day, I can sit down and the music comes more easily. It may be scales at first. Or just something learned by rote. But, damn, if it doesn't sound better with each hour/day/week/month/year I put into it. We become better writers by writing. So write!

  10. Shellie - You're welcome. Don't feel teary about your revisions! You have some good stuff there. Don't let the thought of revising it get you down. You HAVE something written to revise. The time to cry is when you're staring at a ream of blank paper. ;)

  11. Hi Kathy - Thank you! I sometimes have a problem staying focused, too. I was just telling Candy last night that I have a certain amount of time that I have to have to transition into my story--shutting off all of the other things going on in my life and keeping only my story in my mind. The work for a reward works for me as well except I have to do word count.

  12. Candy - Thank you! I guess the old saying "practice makes perfect" is true. Your point about your story being easier to work on when you stay with it every day is really great. Writers do write!