“I want you to learn something new,” Dr. Zhang said to me.
I was lying on a table and poked full of needles, so not in much of a position to argue.
“Your well of creativity is going out,” she said, pantomiming. “You must bring it in. Learn new things, make that well a fountain, so that writing does not become a stress to you. You need to minimize your stress.”
Fast forward 3 weeks. I’d shared this conversation with my husband, and he took it and ran with it. “You’re getting guitar lessons for your birthday,” he said. “And a guitar.”
It took me a week to be happy about this. I wanted to take improv classes.
I should back up ... Before I even thought about being a writer, I was a musician. Piano lessons morphed into violin lessons, then voice lessons got added on. I played in symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, honor orchestra; I sang in choir, and sometimes I got solos. In college I continued playing and singing, and ended up being The-Girl-In-The-Band on violin. Then it all ended when I chose cigarettes over voice lessons, and the violin broke, needing big money fix.
That was 18 years ago, and I haven't picked up an instrument in the interim. But I have never stopped wanting to learn guitar. So I went to my first lesson super excited, and now practice 3-5 times a day, and 4 weeks later, I can’t play a single song recognizably, but I’m having a lot of fun.
This might be hard to hear, but when you begin anything new, you suck at it. And with an instrument, it’s an audible suck. There’s no room for delusions of grandeur about how awesome you are and how those editors or art critics or other drivers are wrong, the sound of the instrument tells you exactly how bad you are, and the only remedy for making that go away is persistence, practicing every day, passion, learning, and a lot of patience.
I should back up (again) ... Two years ago I started writing original fiction with no formal education. Sure, I’ve since read loads of books on how to write books and short stories, and I’ve read loads of books and short stories, period. I’ve been to workshops on writing stories, and panel discussions on how to structure a novel. But like every new, self-taught writer, I thought there was an I WIN button attached to this job.
News Flash: There isn’t.
The thing is about writing is that it takes a lot of courage and bravado to throw yourself at the mercy of editors. I’ve run into writers without a thick skin who scurry away from the job after their first rejection, and then I’ve run into writers with the same punk rock attitude I have after their first few rejections, who're kind of like, “Yeah? Yeah?! You don’t know who you’re messing with, buddy!”
(Spoiler alert: They are messing with nobody)
Guitar has a very objective way of saying how much you suck. Finger placed wrong? The entire chord sounds bad. Distracted for 1 second? Well there you go picking all the wrong strings again. Practice yesterday was awesome? Let’s make you sound like wet farts today. The lack of kindness with which an instrument treats newcomers has me looking at writing more holistically. Maybe being taken down a few hundred pegs in the past four weeks has humbled me, because writing, like learning an instrument, takes persistence, practicing every day, passion, learning, and a lot of patience.
Playing guitar not only helps with the process of writing - play/write every day to master the craft. It also helps with the really hard part — learning patience. Learning the patience to let a story grow into its own so that it’s finished, completely finished, before I send it off to any magazines. Learning the patience to sit back and let places look at my stuff without sending me nuclear after 40 days. And the last bit of patience? Waiting for recognition. There’s a 99.9% chance I won’t get any notoriety doing this, and I am 99.9% okay with that.
The .1% is the part that conducts imaginary interviews in the shower.
“How do you feel about that Ms Kurella?”
“Absolutely fine, thank you.”