April 10, 2018

The community musician who was as disdainful as the BBC and NPR reporters

Posted in music and writing, publication, Success tagged , , at 8:18 am by Rebecca Hein

In 1992, more than ten years before the BBC/NPR episode, I had a mini-encounter with the attitude that unsuccessful writers are beneath contempt . Back then, I already knew I could expect minor put-downs from people outside the creative arts; many people just don’t understand what we do. Hence, their remarks, while unflattering or even insulting, often emerge from their ignorance of the entire field of creative endeavor.

But the 1992 episode showed me the deeper problem. I was being interviewed for a job in cello performance. I’d already auditioned, but my prospective colleagues and I decided it would be a good idea if we also talked about their expectations and mine. It was a community “core professional” orchestra position, in which most of the members of the orchestra were amateurs from the community, and the concertmaster, principal viola and principal cello were professionals. Therefore, the limits of my prospective job were not as well defined as if it had been a union gig with a full-time professional orchestra and a contract.

I did have a contract for this part-time job, but still felt I had to ask a version of the question, “Is this job going to devour my time [beyond what the somewhat loose language of the contract specifies]?” So I asked, and made the mistake of adding, “I’m asking because I have another life goal than just playing the cello.” I said nothing about what that goal was.

“It’s probably writing the Great American Novel.” It was not a friendly quip but a cheap shot. The person who said it was the concertmaster of that community orchestra. I could not mistake his tone, nor the disdain that lay beneath it, and which he had not bothered to hide.

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March 13, 2018

Why do so many people sneer at writers? We seem to be fair game.

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, music and writing, publication, Stages, Success tagged , , , at 9:30 am by Rebecca Hein

Long ago I learned not to tell most people that I liked to write. I loved it so much that I would probably have majored in creative writing, had the cello not grabbed me first. I became a dedicated hobby writer, and gradually certain projects took shape in my head until I knew I had to reserve at least some spare time for them.

Two episodes of jeering stand out in my memory from the time when I began to realize I was a serious writer, ambitious to get published and connect with readers.

The first revealed an ingrained, culturally sanctioned contempt for “unsuccessful” writers—those who work at their craft, want to be published, have a book manuscript or other large project to sell, and haven’t yet found a publisher. The second incident, much more shocking, showed that even another creative artist—a fellow musician—felt free to snipe and poke fun at what he imagined to be my foolish dreams.

March 6, 2018

A successful story; a flaw in the plot

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, Flow, flow in writing, Harmony, Momentum in writing, music and writing, performance tagged , , , , , , , at 6:05 pm by Rebecca Hein

As we have seen, creative momentum can sweep the reader along, sometimes with such power that he or she doesn’t notice small faults in our plot or narrative. Since nobody can craft a story perfect in every technical detail, we need to generate this excitement to help our mission—to communicate the message that won’t leave us alone until we’ve at least tried to express it.

Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a good example of a story with a powerful message, embedded in a plot with at least one rather large flaw. How can the story succeed when the author obviously painted himself into a corner and, to escape it, has stretched the actions of one minor character beyond what’s plausible?

This contradiction—a compelling story with a significant flaw that doesn’t diminish the power of the narrative—has sent me back to the book several times, trying to figure out how the author did it.

In my own writing, I want the state of mind that can fire a brilliant story. As with my cello playing, I know that if I achieve total absorption for myself and my audience, they will be more likely to forget my small errors.

March 1, 2018

The passion behind your writing can compensate for small errors

Posted in Creativity, Depth, Fiction Writing, Flow, flow in writing, Momentum in writing, music and writing, Tone tagged , , , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Rebecca Hein

Experienced musicians know that if they enthrall the audience, small imperfections can’t ruin their performance. An absorbed listener doesn’t notice an occasional out-of-tune note, or forgets it in the excitement of the music.

It’s the same in literature; while writing, if we build enough creative momentum, occasional omissions or small holes in our plot may not matter.

This is not an argument for sloppiness. We can only achieve excellence if we work at it with all our energy. However, we can’t let that high standard box us into scrutinizing every detail of our narrative at the same time we could be searching for the deep place within ourselves where we accomplish our best work.

I’m convinced that Dostoyevsky discovered that profound well of creativity while writing Crime and Punishment.

July 25, 2013

Recognizing the Trade-Off, Part Two

Posted in music and writing, Revising at 1:30 pm by Rebecca Hein

As noted, problems in our writing pop out even when we try to improve it. For years I fought this reality in both cello playing and writing, and didn’t progress in my understanding of the problem until I began to think seriously about music pedagogy and the difference between various approaches.

All are designed to smooth the early path of technique and performance, and all have their limitations. For example, the Suzuki approach delays music-reading until the student is comfortable with the instrument and can play in tune and with good tone. By contrast, traditional study introduces basic technique and music reading all together at the beginning.

I really thought the founder of the movement, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, had solved the problem of laying a strong foundation for good pitch and tone, until one of my junior high cello students told me, “Suzuki students can’t read music. In school orchestra, my Suzuki-trained stand partner watches me and copies what I do, a split second after I do it. It looks like she’s reading the page of music, but she’s actually faking it.”

This was an early clue that there’s always a trade-off. With the Suzuki approach, in pursuing good technique first, the important question of how to teach music-reading was not solved but delayed.

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