Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Write Like You’re Playing Guitar

with 2 comments

This ties in to writing, I promise, so bear with me through a quick story.

Carefree me and my Takamine

When I was first learning to play guitar, I practiced constantly. I had my Takamine acoustic on a stand in the corner of my room, always at-hand, ready to play any time I had ten minutes to noodle around.

I played a lot. And 97% of it was terrible. My fingers felt like frozen sausages. My pick fell out of my hand and into the sound hole. It was dreadful.

But it didn’t bother me because it was just practice. I wasn’t performing live, and no one in their right mind expected me to play like Eric Clapton.

And only a handful of times did I record myself. And then with the sole purpose of listening for my mistakes and altering my practice to focus on the trouble spots.

But most of the time, there were no microphones. And even after the most frustrating sessions, I could pick it up the next day, after all the squawks had faded into the ether, and play with relish.

So why isn’t writing like that?

Even for those who love doing it, sitting at the keyboard is sometimes a scary thing that we’ll happily avoid. (Ooh, Family Guy is on!)

It’s all the easier to procrastinate if the computer’s in your office or your notebook’s hiding at the bottom of your bag. Out of sight, out of mind.

But what’s more, we always have a record of what we’ve written. Unlike music, where wrong notes fade away just as quickly as the right notes, poorly constructed sentences, unintelligible plot lines, and bad dialog are all there staring right back at you – a record of you not being perfect.

It’s never perfect from the get-go.

We expect our writing to be perfect immediately, and when it’s not, our inner critics point accusatory fingers at us like evil monkeys. It’s frustrating to say the least, so we don’t even start.

But the fact is writing, like playing an instrument, is a skill. The more you do it, the better you get at it. The trick is to remember that yes, there’s that record of something you’ve written that you’re not happy with. But that’s ok because:

1)    You can, and should, revise. You’re not happy with the first draft? Good! It’s not a live performance, so go back and make it better.
2)    It’s practice. Some things will never be seen by anyone else. Chalk it up to experience, learn from it, and try again with something new.
3)    You can delete files and shred paper. And that’s acceptable.

As much as anyone else, I want everything I write to flow from my fingers onto the page in perfect, golden prose.

But it doesn’t. It takes practice and revisions.

So I tell my inner critic to shut it, remember that Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit,” and keep my laptop out so it’s always staring at me.

So just get practicing and you might be surprised to find you’re hitting more right notes than you thought.

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Written by Nathanael Green

February 25, 2009 at 8:01 am

2 Responses

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  1. Nate,
    Good post and very true. Apropos of your quote, Hemingway rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms thirty or forty times.
    -B
    ps-I liked your both your references to Family Guy in this post.

    Brian O'Rourke

    February 25, 2009 at 9:10 am

    • I knew you’d like the Family Guy references. And seriously … how hard is it to write when that’s on? Seth Greene’s voice as Chris cracks me up. He could be reading a bus schedule and I’d die laughing.

      Nathanael Green

      February 26, 2009 at 5:36 pm


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