It’s Like Music

Writing with words is a lot like writing music. Anyone who’s ever written anything musical will understand what I mean, and the rest of you… well too bad.

When you write music, (for anyone who’s confused, I’m not talking about lyrics, I’m talking about writing/creating/making harmonies, melodies, rhythm etc.) – when you write music, it (usually) comes to you very naturally, and unconsciously.

You get an idea, a melody, a thing, a chord progression – something you want to focus the music around. And then you build the rest on that. The thing, the first initial idea, doesn’t change (at least not for me). And if you’re unable to make a song work, you just scrap the whole idea. And then later you’ll pick up that first little idea, that melody that you loved so much, and you’ll try to build upon it again. And it will work.

I realize I am generalizing quite a lot, but it’s true.

And the point is, I’ve realized I write words the same way.

There will be one little thing, the first little concept or idea, that I just have to stick with. I can change the world, the characters, the plot, the setting everything else, but not that one little thing. Because that’s the thing that made me want to write this particular story, and this is the thing that’s going to be at the centre of everything.

To clarify, ‘the thing’ could be a plot twist, a cliff hanger, a certain character, anything at all really. The only thing that’s central to them all is that they’re usually, (in my cases), the first idea that sparks the rest of the story.

“Why are you telling me this?” You ask with a bored sigh. What’s the point of this lecture on how I write words/music?

The point, I’ve realized, is that when you know this, you can let go of all the other things. You can relax.

When I manage to identify the one and only melody that is essential to my song writing, I can scrap all the chords, rhythms and harmonies and build the song over, and over again. The same goes for writing (with words) – when you know what sparked the initial idea, you can hold on to that, and play around with everything else. Does this story need to be set in the future? No not really. Are the dinosaurs essential? Probably not. Did I have to make all my characters blind? No. All I need is for them to be on a purple boat, in an ocean that’s on fire. Everything else is liquid.

Make sense? Of course it does.

Because writing stories is much like learning to play an instrument. It’s going to take a while. You’re going to make mistakes, hitting the wrong notes, having to take it slow and take time to learn. No one’s going to judge you for that, and no one is expecting more of you. No one points and laughs at a 7-year-old who’s just picked up his first guitar. (And if you do, really?).

Point is, there’s no such thing as talent. Personally, I don’t believe in it, and I find the concept to be highly detrimental to anyone’s efforts to learn a skill. It’s so easy to either use it as an excuse to quit, because ‘I’m not talented enough’, or it becomes a demotivator because ‘everyone else is more talented’. Yes, some people are going to learn things quicker than others, and some people are going to have a different foundation for learning something.

But everyone can learn. Be it playing an instrument or writing. You just need to stick with it, and find ‘the thing’.

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