A quick reminder to myself, and all of us who consider ourselves to be ‘serious’ writers…
I started to write ‘seriously’ when I was 8 years old. There was a play back then which I wrote and actually got performed for the school. But at the same age, I also started to play the violin, and from that moment music became my most serious hobby. It never became my profession, though, and so to this day, playing the violin is for me exactly that – play. Whether I am surrounded by 100 other musicians in an orchestra, a few friends in a living room, or just by myself with a metronome and a music stand, it is always the same. Playing the violin takes time, practice, frustration and perseverance, but it is always done in the name of play, and so it remains fun after all these years. One of the things I love the best is to sightread, to pick up a piece of music I’ve never seen before and just ‘fiddle around’ with it. There are no expectations, no judgment, no needs beyond the delight of getting something occasionally right. I continue to practice my violin because the better I get, the more I can do, and the more playful I can be. But not because of any expectations beyond that.
But once I decided to start writing professionally (meaning sending my work out into the world for others to read, not to mention hoping to earn some money from it), I stopped being quite so playful. Now, when I write, there is always a phantom editor or publisher peering through the doorway. All too often, my impulse in writing something is modified by the market. Will this be published? Will it sell? Is it commercial enough or not commercial enough? I was reminded of this trap the other day while I was playing a violin sonata which was occasionally too hard for me, but still fun.
I know other writers who manage not to fall into the trap. They are the ones who insist on writing for fun, even when they are writing for the market. Their work is often the most creative, and that is the point. The ability to be playful in your work is, I believe, a key to doing your best work. The joy of the experience comes through when it is created with joy – even if the subject matter is far from joyous.
So, note to self: lighten up! Remember to play – you can be a lot more serious that way.