One of the things that many of my students don’t know about me is that I have a strong background in music. “You? Sing?” I heard one of them say a few years ago, as if youth has a monopoly on making a joyful noise. Yes, Virginia, I did sing once upon a time, and quite well, I might add. I also played guitar and wrote music.
When I was in Idaho, I was heavily involved in Worship and Praise music for my church–I was heavily involved in church in general–but when I came to Texas, not only was I teaching but I was expected to run a radio station AND study for my doctorate. And so, knowing how much of my time was committed for these things, I put my music on hold. Later, I started writing books again and after not playing the guitar or singing for several years, found that I had lost interest in performance.
But now, I see everything through the rose-colored glasses of an author. And so I wanted to talk about how writing is like performing.
You may be asked to perform at Carnegie Hall, or you may be simply asked to perform for a collection of friends. In either case, you are putting your reputation on the line as soon as you step up front. I remember the feeling of being so frightened that my mouth felt like sandpaper. But inevitably, as soon as I opened my mouth and begin to sing, the fear disappeared. I knew what to do.
That’s the way it is with writing. You are performing for an audience of one: your reader. But you ARE performing. Each performance is just as important as the last, simply because you are putting your reputation on the line and word of mouth can make or break you. Did they like it? Did they hate it? Did they sleep through it?
In magazine editing, the old saying goes, “The best part of doing a magazine is that there’s always another issue; the worst part of doing a magazine is there’s always another issue.” Performing–writing and singing–is the same way. You have to do your best each time when you perform; respect for the craft and yourself should require that of you. But there is also consolation–and dread–that that performance will not be your last. There are opportunities to grow, improve, reward your audience more fully for taking the time to read your book or listen to your song.
I guess I never really got performing out of my system. I really got a rush out of it, especially standing on a large stage with only the spotlight around you, and beyond that, darkness. You can hear the crowd out there, a rustle here, a cough there. But adrenaline assures you that you are not alone. You’re performing for the invisible audience, and it is they who will pass judgment on whether you are worth spending a few moments or even more time on.
Singing is like that. But writing is too. You don’t always see the audience. But they are out there.
You owe it to them to give your very best.