June 20, 2018

Can writers connect with readers just like musicians do?

Posted in Connecting with readers, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , , at 5:24 am by Rebecca Hein

Unlike musicians performing live, writers must wait for audience response, except in public readings. Given the long delay between publication and reader feedback, how can we establish a sparkling connection? This delay makes our job harder than the musician’s, but it’s still possible to gain energy from a successful essay or book, and to build on this energy for our next round of work.

I learned this writing columns for five and a half years for my local newspaper, the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune. Initial response was positive. This fueled my confidence and in turn sparked ideas for future columns. When I encountered pleased readers at the bank, grocery store, or public library, they almost always thanked me for what I’d written—sometimes six months ago or more—and mentioned the way in which a particular column had helped them.

Because of this, I began to sense a live connection between what I wrote and how readers responded.

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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.

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 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?

May 8, 2018

The newspaper column that rose above the others—and I still don’t know why

Posted in Connecting with readers, publication, Success tagged , , , , at 6:15 am by Rebecca Hein

“Writers are the worst judges of their own work.” When a mentor and friend said this to me years ago about a recent episode in my writing life, I was forced to conclude that he was probably right.

I had just discovered that I couldn’t predict reader response to my monthly newspaper columns, even though I’d tried hard to analyze and repeat one of my successes. I’d been writing arts columns for my local paper, the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune, for 5 ½ years, and had progressed through several stages in attracting a readership.

At first, many people thanked me for my unique perspective as a cellist and my new role as arts commentator. One of my best-educated, and most jaded, readers told me that he sensed a freshness in my ideas that he hadn’t seen in a long time.

Gradually, people stopped calling and writing to thank me for a column they’d especially enjoyed, but I was always running into salespeople, bank tellers, neighbors, and associates who commented on recent columns or on my work in general.

Eventually this latter phenomenon died down to a low murmur and I began to feel that readers were taking me for granted. Then I wrote a winner.

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