August 29, 2012

Slumps, Part Two

Posted in slumps in writing tagged , , at 2:40 pm by Rebecca Hein

If we could set up our writing lives for regular practice and performance, as musicians do, our slumps might have less power to stop us. Habits that engage us with our own skill or with readers can tide us through difficult times, making the difference between advancing slowly and stopping.

Practicing is one of the most valuable activities of all, precisely because it keeps us going. Expecting nothing except to produce words—any words—we can still write. Even if we’ve lost all sense of direction, or our confidence has dwindled to nothing, if we continue to practice, we at least set ourselves up for a return of motivation and the desire to go on.

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August 22, 2012

Slumps, Part One

Posted in slumps in writing tagged , , at 3:11 pm by Rebecca Hein

Slumps in our creative work are inevitable. We lose momentum or confidence, slow down, and eventually stop.

The cause can be anything from a series of rejections to a problem of content or structure in an ongoing project. Either way, we can’t seem to get going, and wonder if we ever will again.

When this happens to my cello playing, sometimes I’ve had no choice but to continue practicing anyway. Forced to it by a performance or by teaching, I trudge forward.

Then a moment of enchantment inspires me. Or maybe a good practice session re-energizes me, and newly motivated, I’m on my way again.

But many writers don’t practice regularly, nor do they face periodic publication. Nor does writing always inspire them the way music inspires a cellist. Therefore how does a writer pull out of a slump?

August 15, 2012

Evaluating Your Own Work, Part Seven

Posted in Saturation, self-evaluation tagged , at 2:53 pm by Rebecca Hein

In cello practice, when I play through a piece to determine how close to performance level it is, I can usually get all the way through without the distractions that trouble me when reading through my writing.

What’s the difference? In music, I practice and play through a piece dozens or sometimes hundreds of times to prepare for a performance. In writing, I seldom read a piece that many times.

However, there’s no doubt that the more I do read one of my chapters or a larger section of my book, the less I’m bothered by details. When I do detect a minor error, I mark it and resume my read-through.

In this way I hone my writer’s listening skills, and because I’m “hearing” the bumps and rough spots, I’m also attuned to the details, so the saturation of reading the same piece many times is quite productive.

August 8, 2012

Evaluating Your Own Work, Part Six

Posted in self-evaluation tagged , at 11:07 am by Rebecca Hein

To listen to your writing, you have to put yourself in a different frame of mind than when you’re editing it. In editing, we’re on the watch for errors in punctuation, style, and usage, whereas in listening we simply let our words flow past us.

This takes practice, but just imagine that you’re listening to a piece of music. Once you’re in the midst of your stream of words, your musical instincts—trained or not—will start working, and then you’ll detect your bumps and rough spots without even knowing how you’re doing it.

To cultivate this ability, it’s not necessary to know how it works. Just get started and see what happens.

August 1, 2012

Evaluating Your Own Work, Part Five

Posted in self-evaluation tagged at 3:59 pm by Rebecca Hein

As we have seen, Ron Kenner’s excellent advice is to “listen for places [in our writing] that call out for more detail.” Or for smoother phrasing, more elegant wording, or clearer ideas.

You can learn to listen to your writing even if you don’t play a musical instrument, and thus are unaccustomed to listening to your own work. The first step is to understand that we all have musical instincts—the ability to hear sour notes, bumpy rhythms, or irregular pacing. This holds true regardless of whether we’re listening to music or to words.