June 13, 2018

Excitement or perfection: Which is more important?

Posted in music and writing, Peak Experiences, performance, Success tagged , , at 5:07 am by Rebecca Hein

If you are a writer or musician and want to connect with your audience, your performance need not be perfect. It just has to be compelling. I discovered this in a memorable concert decades ago in which performers and audience were all swept up in the excitement of the music.

I was playing cello in the Eugene [Oregon] Opera, a community group. Although we were well rehearsed, and had a talented orchestra and cast, our performances were not professional-level. However, that proved irrelevant to the excitement we somehow generated on our last night’s performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. For some unknown reason—over which musicians and writers have no control—the audience was unusually receptive.

That inspired all of us to play, act, or sing better, and before the evening was half over, we had become a more cohesive group. In the orchestra, we responded better to the conductor and to the singers onstage. The singers in their turn relaxed and gained confidence. Best of all, the plot began to roll along as though on its own momentum.

The main character, Don Giovanni, has spent the entire opera seducing women, and in the final climactic scene, a huge statue comes to life and drags him down to Hell. The music is loudest, fastest, and most dramatic at this point, and onstage, smoke billows out of the opening of a trap door through which the statue is dragging Don Giovanni.

The stage crew must have used more dry ice than usual, because the “smoke” filled the orchestra pit and even got to part of the audience. Barely visible through the haze, Don Giovanni and the statue were singing with all their might.

We in the orchestra could feel the terror of the moment, and played with fiendish energy. Excitement crackled between us and the audience, and afterwards we knew we’d outdone ourselves.

During the following years, I gradually figured out what creates a similar effect with the written word.

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June 6, 2018

The magical current between you and your audience

Posted in Connecting with readers, Creativity, music and writing, Peak Experiences, performance, publication, Success tagged , , , , , , at 6:33 am by Rebecca Hein

Whether we are musicians or writers, we all want to spark a fire between us and our audiences. This has happened to me in both cello playing and writing, and these experiences are so exhilarating that I always want to repeat them.

Although there’s no formula, these events have elements in common—between music and writing as well as from one occurrence to another. All these episodes have been exciting, and I did nothing to induce them. This means I did not “play to the crowd.”

In playing to the crowd, we try to please rather than calling on our deepest passions to tell us what to write or how to perform. So, although I’ve learned not to try to please the audience, once that magical current begins to sizzle between us, I react spontaneously to continue the intensity of that live connection.

May 29, 2018

You can’t contrive a creative success

Posted in Connecting with readers, Creativity, Ideas, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 6:35 am by Rebecca Hein

The success of “Compose Yourself” was spontaneous. Beforehand, I had no idea it would elicit so much more appreciation than did my other columns, which were nearly as good—as far as I could tell. This spontaneity was what I temporarily lost during the months I spent trying to equal the impressive effects of “Compose Yourself.” Now I know why.

Rather than writing from my deepest passions, I was trying to play to the crowd. It was a subtle change in direction, and when it didn’t work, I abandoned the effort and accepted the obvious fact that I couldn’t predict the effects of my writing.

However, in music performance, there’s nothing wrong with playing to the audience, in a certain form, and I’m sure we as writers can learn from this phenomenon.

May 22, 2018

If writers are really the worst judges of their own work, how can we be sure of engaging readers?

Posted in Connecting with readers, Depth, Ideas, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 7:50 am by Rebecca Hein

When I finally quit trying to replicate one successful column, I settled back into writing-as-usual. For me that means getting in touch with my best ideas, developing them, and eventually producing finished pieces from them.

In this process, I’m not thinking about what will please readers, although I aim for clarity, simplicity, and good organization. My motive power is the passion I feel for the idea. With my very first column, I’d discovered that if I wrote from my deepest convictions, this reached to an equally deep place within a significant number of readers.

Thus, in the aftermath of “Compose Yourself,” I rediscovered what engages readers. However, the mystery of that episode remained with me because while writing “Compose Yourself,” I hadn’t been aware that its central idea came from an unusual level of depth or passion.

So I still haven’t figured out why that column succeeded, but recently I saw a possible reason why the next few columns didn’t reach as high.

May 15, 2018

A success I couldn’t replicate

Posted in Connecting with readers, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , at 7:01 am by Rebecca Hein

After a long silence from readers, the morning one of my best columns was published, titled “Compose Yourself,” I received three emails about it. These readers all thanked me, and said the same things about the column: it was wise, sensible, and encouraging.

If one letter represents another 99 people who also appreciated a piece of writing, my batting average had just soared. I wondered how I could get this to happen again, and for the next six months worked diligently to write even better columns, full of what I hoped was more encouragement and inspiration.

Nothing happened beyond the normal, regular but infrequent, level of compliments that emerged in various conversations and interactions with people in my community. That was when I told my mentor that I was bewildered because I hadn’t been able to repeat my success, even after careful study of “Compose Yourself.”

After he told me that writers are the worst judges of their own work, I wondered, therefore, how can we figure out what will engage readers?

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