Friday, June 19, 2009

Putting in the Hours

I've recently been reading Loud and Clear by Anna Quindlen, and it's brought back to me how much I enjoy her writing. She is probably most well known for her NY Times columns, but has also written fiction and non-fiction books, as well as a couple of children's books. Her writing not only makes me want to read, but it makes me want to write. And therein lies the difficulty.

Writing is hard. I find that writing is kind of like singing. Most people seem to think they can sing (judging from American Idol, which is like a train wreck - if I pass it when flipping channels, it's so painful that I'm compelled to watch, and then I feel slightly dirty...); you don't hear people walking around thinking they can play the violin. Clearly, one can't just pick up a violin and produce anything akin to music. But many people seem to forget that even though someone may be endowed with singing talent, those that make a career of it have spent a whole lot of hours working at it.

I think of writing in the same way. If you're at all literate, you learned the mechanics of writing in school, probably with some creative writing instruction thrown in for good measure. And when you read really good writing, it seems so effortless, much like when you listen to a really good violin performance. This leads one to think that all they need to do is grab a pen and some paper and write the Great American Novel.

Hmmmm....ever tried that? It's like trying to play a violin concerto without the benefit of the countless hours of practice. The power of language is extraordinary, and when it's used well by someone that has worked hard at the craft, it has the ability to make us laugh or cry, sometimes both at the same time. When a writer gets a turn of phrase just right, it's a joy to read. Sadly, it's much easier to read good writing than it is to produce it. I was trained as a classical flutist, but part-way through my conservatory training, I realized that there were people out there that could play in a way that I never could, no matter how many hours I spent in my practice room. I had enough ability to recognize this extraordinary talent when I heard it; unfortunately, my abilities didn't go so far as replicating it.

So, I sit at my computer (or with pen and paper) and do what I can. I saw a documentary a while back about a writer (whose name completely escapes me) whose day job is a scientist. Outside of work hours he manages to write fictional novels. (I know - showoff!) He stated that the hardest part of being a writer is putting in the hours to write. While I don't believe this is true (for me, anyway), it falls into the category of the concept of time spent in the practice room. Unfortunately, I seem to have the attention span of a flea these days, but maybe I can work on becoming a flea who occasionally produces an excellent turn of phrase.


Bezzie said...

Good analogy!! I guess under that theory, I just sing a lot in the shower and call it good ;-)

grmybmy said...

Love the violin illustration. Also have had a few schadenfreude moments during some crash and burn solos attempted by singers who didn't know any better....GB