Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How to Rock Your Writing

I have to start out by saying I am not a rocker.  I like music, in general.  My tastes range from classical to jazz to pop, but I have never been passionate about music or musicians.  I was never a groupie.  I didn’t buy a lot of albums.  I liked singing in a group, and adored belting out Christmas carols (the only songs I actually knew the words to), but I never dreamed of being on stage.  In fact, I would have preferred anything, possibly even a root canal, to being forced to sing in public.  But I have a twelve year old son who is a singer, and because of him I have learned a bit about rock and roll. 

Do you remember an old cartoon about a man who found a very talented frog?  It sang “Hello, My Baby” and tap danced, and the man thought he had found something really special, but as soon as anyone else was around, the frog would refuse to sing.  It would just sit there, very serious and frog like, saying “ribbit.”  It eventually drove the poor man insane.  I think the final scene of the cartoon was of the man being taken to an insane asylum as the frog, all alone with the man in the paddy wagon, happily sang and tap danced to the sound of the man's sobs.
I understood that cartoon on many levels, because my son was that frog.  He had an unusually good voice, even at a very early age, but refused to sing in public.  He wouldn’t even sing in front of people who had known him since the day he was born.  Occasionally, if everyone agreed to turn their backs and avoid looking at him, I could get him to sing a line to two, but nothing more.  It wasn’t until he had some training, and met the right teachers, that things really came together for him.

Here is what I have learned from my son’s experience, and many of these things have helped me to grow as a writer and as a person.

1.       Work on your craft.  In the early days, when my son wouldn’t sing, I insisted he take private voice lessons.  I didn’t want to be pushy, and told him he would never have to sing in public if he didn’t want to, but I insisted on the lessons.  There is a simple reason for this.  When you are given a gift, whether it is the ability to sing or to dance or to write, it is your responsibility to nurture that gift and help it to grow.  Even if you never share it with anyone else, even if it means dancing when no one is watching or singing alone or writing without any thought of ever being published, you must do it.  I wanted my son to nurture his gift, and to have the skills in place to be able to perform if he ever wanted to do so.  I found a gentle lady with a quiet demeanor named Lisa Abrams who gave my son classical training.  At first he was hesitant, and would only sing for her with his back turned, but eventually his confidence grew.

2.      Force yourself out of your comfort zone.  The school talent show was coming up, and my son agreed to sing.  It was a very big step for him and he was scared to death, but he did it.  He sang “The Grenade Song” by Bruno Mars, and it was a huge hit.  Afterwards, he looked at me and said, “I want to do that again.”  We all face things that frighten us, but sometimes those are the things that end up being the most worthwhile.  Challenge yourself, and just do it.

3.      Find kindred spirits.  Riding on the success of the talent show, my son wanted to join a group called the For Those About to Rock Academy.  I was still a little worried that he would sit in the back of the room and refuse to sing in front of the other kids, so before signing up, I asked if he could meet the teachers and sing for them.  That was the day he met Joey Granati and Cathy Stewart.  They had mentioned they might do a Queen song for the upcoming session, so he learned “We Are the Champions.”  He was nervous, but after chatting with Cathy a bit, he agreed to sing, and as soon as he began to sing, Joey began to cheer.  His nervousness disappeared.  They understood him and he understood them.  A few days later, he met David Granati, the other teacher at Rock Academy, and it was magic.  Even now, after performing with them for more than a year, I see his eyes meet David’s on stage as he belts out a song and David grins, his fingers flying over the strings of his electric guitar.  I see my son look for Cathy to make sure he comes in at the right place and doesn’t miss his cue.  And I watch him grin as Joey, playing on the bass, leans back against him and strikes a classic rockers’ pose during a song they both love to play.  Kindred spirits.  We need them as writers, too.  And when we find them, we know it instantly and it is like a little miracle.

4.      Not every song goes smoothly.  Sometimes things just sort of fall apart on stage.  Voices crack.  Mistakes are made.  Things are forgotten.  But once the song is over, you just move on to the next song.  That is important to remember as a writer.  If you write something crappy, get over it.  Your next book might be better.  If not, get over that, too.  Call your kindred spirits, whine (or wine) a little, and get back to work.  No one said it would be easy, but if you love it, it is worth every bump in the road.

5.      Embrace spontaneity.  I’m a compulsive organizer.  I’ll admit it.  I plan things out.  Whenever I go on a trip, I print out directions, use a GPS, and also put Google Maps on my phone, just in case.  I make reservations.  I research parking areas.  I leave as little as possible to chance.  But I have learned that some of the most beautiful things happen spontaneously.  Once, my son was asked to learn a new song.  He did, and went over it with Joey, but didn’t rehearse it with the guitarist and the drummer.  They just went on stage and did it, and it was great.  Rockers are spontaneous, but they are not especially organized or conscious of time.  Your writing needs to have a little of both.  Whenever I write, I know where I’m going in my story (sort of like using a GPS), but I’m willing to veer off if I find something interesting along the way.  I know the GPS will lead me back, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to find something magical and unexpected – sort of like the diner we found in San Luis Obispo that had the best blueberry pancakes in the whole world.  We never would have found that place if we didn’t have a newly potty trained child who needed a bathroom urgently, and that is my point.  Enjoy the surprises.

6.      Celebrate your progress.  Before my son had private lessons, and before he met Joey and Cathy and David, he was in the elementary school choir and was chosen by his teacher, Mrs. Damesimo, for the District Honors Chorus.  It was a great experience for him, and a wonderful opportunity to meet even more kindred spirits.  But the thing that stands out to me the most is the difference between when he started chorus, and his last performance at a concert his sixth grade year.  This child who was once so nervous that he couldn’t sing unless everyone turned around, belted out a solo in front of hundreds of people.  His friends in the audience screamed and cheered.  He responded with a shy, little smile.  Mrs. Damesimo glowed.  She knew exactly how far he had come and so did my son.  As writers, we have to see our progress, too, even if it means going back to that horrible thing you wrote a few years ago – if only to realize how much better you have become and how much hard work can pay off.

7.      Love what you do.  When I see Joey and David and Cathy on stage, it is clear they are doing what they love.  When I watch Lisa teaching my son, it is clear that she is doing what she loves.  When I see Mrs. Damesimo directing the sweet little faces in the elementary chorus, I know she is doing what she loves.  And when I see my son sing, I know he is doing what he loves, too….for now.  He also loves soccer and reading and spends way too much time playing video games, but music is a big part of who he is as a person, and I hope it always remains a part of his life.  I didn’t find my passion in music, I found it in writing, but it took me a while.  Even though people have been telling me I should be a writer my whole entire life, I didn’t listen.  I travelled and learned and explored and got married and had a family…and then found out writing is what I really love to do.  It is my passion, and I am incomplete without it. 

It is never too late, so keep writing, and ROCK ON!  \m/

If you'd like to see my son's solo at the chorus concert:

And this is a video him performing with the Rock Academy and the always wonderful Joey Granati:


No comments:

Post a Comment