Play me a song

I have a very low threshold for stimulation when I’m working, which includes music, particularly with lyrics. It’s amazing to me that other people can listen to words (yes, words being sung, but words nonetheless) while they write. It feels too potent to me, too easy to start weaving someone else’s story into whatever I’m writing.

But I find music incredibly helpful in other ways. There’s an Ani Difranco song, for example, that I use as a reminder of the value of a few carefully chosen details. I love to think about lyrics, about why a good song works. Detail, suggestion, just enough of a framework to make me want to fill in the rest on my own.

Over the holidays I watched a few rockumentaries for fun. There was another lesson there, in watching archival footage of fledgling musicians. One word, easy to remember. Confidence

I’m not talking about arrogance, or pretension, or perfection. I’m talking about someone picking up a guitar, someone who’s too shy to even look up at an audience, and playing what’s in them–strong, loud, clear. Saying, hey, listen to me, I have something to say, even if I haven’t totally figured out how to say it. A certain internal confidence, very different from the ability to be the life of the party.

It’s the same in writing. You have to own the page. Beyond all the rest, all the details of craft, there exists that individual spark that is voice. Finding it is not about learning to sound like anyone else, even those writers you love, the ones who will always leave a faint impression in your voice because they are part of the world of words for you.

It’s about stepping onto the stage and saying, listen up, my knees may be shaking, my hands may be sweaty, I may be rethinking doing this, but you’re here and I am and I have this piece inside of me that needs to be heard, and I’m going to share it in the truest way I know how. Listen.

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