Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tap Dancing and Courageous Writers

Tap-dancing has much more embarrassment potential to a beginner than jazz dancing does. I know--I've been taking tap classes. Sometimes I wish those metal plates would fall off so that my missteps would not broadcast themselves to my fellow dancers. Sometimes I think I would have been better off in jazz dancing classes, where the shoes are soft and the missteps easier to cover. But jazz wouldn't have helped me as much with my writing as tap does.

Just as tapping on the wrong beat will call attention to my need to practice more, sharing my writing with a critique group makes my errant verbal beats public and undeniable, calling my attention to my need to revise. I used to keep my works-in-progress mostly to myself, until I felt they were ready for submission, and my soft-shoe approach allowed me to overlook what the tap-shoe approach--the public read-aloud in a critique group--would have made apparent. I wasted a lot of time by not tap-dancing as a writer and overpowering my own former insecurities.

Everyone in my tap dancing class can hear each other's missteps as we try out our new routines, just as my fellow writers can hear each other's mistakes loudly and clearly. Tap dancing has reinforced for me my need to goof up publicly without the ability to cover up with fancy footwork. Jazz dancers, with soft shoes, like writers who never share their work in a public way, can attempt to revise their errors and hope that no one notices. Tap dancers and courageous writers who share their works-in-progress can't take back the sounds they've emitted, and thus become more determined NOT to make the same errant sounds again.

When people ask me, "What on earth made you agree to take tap classes?," I answer, "It's a challenge--embarrassing sometimes, but actually fun. And, my writing critique partner talked me into it! She's very convincing."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Words to Benefit Others

"Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others." -Buddha That's my reason for writing words and songs, and for teaching. The Buddha summed it up!

I wrote a song the other day for the purpose of healing my community, despondent as many of us are since the discovery of the murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois. Some might assume that I want to share the song, my husband pointed out, out of egotistical reasons, to get fans. That thought had not occurred to me, because I only thought of the song as a kind of offering, to benefit myself by healing others, to feel as though I could do something to help, instead of feeling so helpless, as most of our community feels now. I know my husband is right, that people assume writing and sharing is about ego. But it's not for me. It's a higher purpose.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Contradiction Within a Metaphor

While discussing my plans for the enormous success of a newly finished manuscript with my son (as if planning has anything to do with success!), I mused, "Ah, I'll be in heaven when that happens."

My wise son replied, "That's a weird expression, Mom. It can be both negative AND optimistic. You could be saying that success won't happen till after you're dead. Or you could be envisioning the joy you expect to happen."

Maybe I should have used a simile instead: "Ah, I'll feel like I'm in heaven when that happens."

Word power...


You get an idea for a poem or a story, but you're in your car or out walking, somewhere impossible to write. And the idea spins into lines in your head, begging to be recorded. You worry that you'll forget this windfall of words before you can write them down. My advice to you: Don't strain to record them later if they were but temporary traveling partners. You wouldn't try to force a friendship with someone you met on the road unless some surprising, special bond had occurred. The same applies to your words.

I have learned to trust the power of reverberation in my writing life.

Reverberation is a quality directly proportional to the quality of the words. Great words tend to stick around and echo in your head till they're recorded. They are memorable because, by definition, they are "able to be remembered"--by the author as well as the reader. If you've forgotten your own words, chances are that someone else will forget them, too.

Trust the power of reverberation, and recognize that memorable words flow--they can never be manufactured.