Want to Write Well? Learn to Write Badly!

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Here’s a shot of me singing ‘Mein Herr’ in Cabaret a few years back. I know, I know, I didn’t write that. But, I did have to sing the part, and here’s the thing; I’m not a singer.

Sure, I can carry a tune, and have a ‘nice’ voice, but compared to those who work at it, I’m weak. So, I had to work my solar plexus/abdomen off to get myself up to belting-it-out level.

It took about eight weeks with a vocal coach and a minimum of an hour a day practice, not counting the actual rehearsal times, to get there. When I was asked to play this part, I auditioned for the music director, the dance choreographer, and the director. Acting? No problem. Dancing? Done enough with my ice skating to fake the lead, (it’s the chorus that really dances). Singing? Wasn’t quite so sure.

However, when the musical director, who was blind, said I could handle it, I agreed to take the part. And I’m so glad, it was one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had. One of the best overall acting experiences actually.

But I had to start with an average talent and work on it until I could hold the solos and bring down the house. It took weeks of cracking notes and perfecting technique, and if I had only been as good as my audition, the show would definitely not have been a hit, in fact, I would have let a lot of people down. There was pressure to be, not just good, but exceptional. A pressure that all to often, writers put on themselves too early on.

We don’t start off being perfect at anything in life, especially not when creating the first draft of a new book. You don’t know yet if the idea will be good, if you’ll be up to the challenge, if this is an idea that will flesh out into a full-bodied epic with pith and wisdom and sentences that make you weep. Most people, I’m guessing, begin a book with little more than a basic idea and go from there. If we expected our first draft to be the opening night performance, (i.e. finished novel) we’d be so terrified, we’d never even start.

So here’s my first advice, go ahead and suck. Be bad, let the typos and the spelling, and the over-writing and the rambling go. Get it down on paper, or at least, in a computer, then you can go back, work it, get advice, have an editor work with you. We do this in every other aspect of life, we learn as we go, we improve and we step up, it’s the same in writing.

Don’t forget, you’ve got the rehearsal to perfect it, to get better, to polish and fluff and fill. If you are afraid to put something down that isn’t good enough or might need to be thrown out, you won’t have the joy of writing, of the process. And if you don’t love the process, do something else.

I mean, look at it this way—you might not be Celine Dion, but does that mean you can’t belt out one of her classics in the car? Of course you can, and I’ll bet you sound good in there!!

So start that story, create those characters, dream up scenarios and whole other worlds, because it’s fun!! And if it isn’t quite right, change it, start over, twist and shape it into something you do love.

Just remember this, don’t do it the way you think it should be done, do it from your heart and use your own voice, because it’s all you truly have to offer.

I ain’t no Celine, but with a lot of sweat and more than a panic attack or two, I pulled off Sally Bowles, and loved the experience, even if I wasn’t good when I started.

So just write it down, get your idea out of your head and into some workable form. Your idea will evolve and improve, I promise. Your words will smooth out, and the discordant notes will strengthen as you work on them. Have the courage to cut and change when needed. In a month or two, or six, or twelve, each to their own tempo, you will have a finished work that you can hold up proudly and say, “I wrote this!”

And if nobody else likes it, so what! Nobody can predict that, but like singing in the shower, it’s still really fun!

Shari, November 13th, 2012

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