My husband of 4 years is a musician, a guitar and pedal steel player specifically, much to my joy and chagrin. Don't know what a pedal steel is? Picture someone sitting at a piano, except the piano looks like a rectangular guitar, and they're playing with their knees and feet along with their hands, and the sound is that wah waaaah sound in the background of sad country songs by old dudes named things like Buck and Hank. The soundtrack to my life at home is literally a down-in-the-dumps-my-truck-is-broken-and-my-girl-left-me album, which can occasionally make it difficult to do things like work... or smile. Just kidding, mostly- it's lovely and very festive, shall we say, and I knew what I was marrying into- when we first met he was a touring musician with bands like We Are The City and Northcote- but that was pre-pedal steel and back then he mostly played plugged into an amp with headphones because it was too loud for roommates, and now he happily plays unplugged and unheadphoned all day err day and I try my best to live according to the soundtrack I've been provided with. I've gotten really into tassles on things and saying y'all.
But one thing I've always found hilarious is how many people ask, all giddy-like, if he plays for me. I think they assume it must be wonderful and romantic and inspiring to be married to a musician as we sit and stare into each other's eyes or something, while he sings love songs written specifically for me: "your eeeeeyes are reeeallly biiiig". In reality, he does play at lot at home, but most of what a musician is practicing at home is scales. You remember scales, right? From those few years your mom made you take piano lessons? Up the piano, down the piano, up the piano, down the... you get it. So while I'm going about my day writing, or reading, or cleaning behind the fridge, I often hear the same ten notes over and over and over and over and... ya dig?? Along with driving me to the point of insanity, however, it has also made me realize that as a writer, I don't often spend a lot of time simply practicing my "scales"- the basics of writing. We (and I do mean me specifically, but I like to say 'we' because it makes me feel like I'm lecturing everyone importantly and not just my own stubborn psyche) like to live in a fantasy world where every time we write it's new and important and perfect and spontaneous, and we don't spend a ton of time putting in the hard work to nail down those foundations.
But what are foundations in writing? Writing is creative, right? Meant to be a free-form flowing diatribe of the brilliance of my own mind only when zee muse hits, oui? Sure I EDIT, if someone is holding a gun and a contract that says they can ask for up to 3 edits to my head, but the majority of my time is spent free-falling into language bliss. But perhaps it shouldn't always be.
If my sig other (got bored of writing significant halfway through- sticking with 'sig'- he'll definitely love it) can spend HOUR AFTER HOUR riffing up and down the pedal steel (I don't actually know if there's an up and down on a pedal steel but I get so mesmerized by trying to figure out what the heck the knees are doing it's hard to pay attention), surely I can spend some time... learning... uh... whatever it is a writer learns by doing scales...er.. might need to get some advice... hold up...
Okay, I texted him while he's at work (he's a brewer so I like to assume he's never actually working and is mostly just sitting around drinking beer all day and should be able to text me at any given moment) and got back the following response to my question of why he practices scales so much: "muscle memory 💪 = ✌️", which I think means something like "I love you so much, honey, can't wait to come home and hang out, and also it's really important to keep the muscles of your music-playing hands in good shape so you're prepared to hit cool licks when you need to reach them perfectly later on k love you bye". Something like that. Unfortunately he also wrote "when you practice the best riffs over and over you learn how to STEEL them" and I am allergic to pedal steel jokes so I stopped replying.
But he does have a point. When I'm actually sitting down to write something important, like important as in- this is the one: the story I've been playing in my head for a while and preparing to write but procrastinating a bit cause I'm afraid; the screenplay (my chosen medium) that the big producer is waiting for and actually counts; the BIG ONE... when I'm actually sitting down to write it, if I haven't been practicing my scales, ie. if I haven't been writing a TON beforehand, every day, building my writing muscles, then the piece that REALLY COUNTS won't measure up. I'll be rusty. My riffs won't be solid. My notes won't be crisp. My tone might slip (I'm making these up at this point but you get my drift). Unless I've been deliberately taking time to just write- to play with words, to get some "bad" writing out of my system, to try on different styles and sentence structures and word choices and voices, I won't be prepared when it comes time to actually write the thing that counts.
Dang. I promise I did not start out to write this as an advertisement for our Find Your Voice * Tell Your Story workshops, but it sort of wrote itself. Maybe by muscle memory. Who knows! But this is what we do in our writing workshops- we play, we experiment, we try on and discard styles and voices- in essence, we practice our scales of writing in a really safe and supportive environment that includes snacks. SNACKS, you guys. My husband can't eat snacks while he's practicing scales because his hands will be too slippery. And that's why writing is better than music (nailed it).
But aside from taking a workshop with us (because we rule and we're super fun), keep in mind that when you're playing around with writing even at home, for just ten minutes, you're not NOT a serious writer. In fact, taking time every day to play around- to write little poems, flash fiction, really detailed grocery lists- is part of what makes you a serious writer, because it builds the muscle memory your brain needs to grow your writing voice as strong, clear, and unique as it can be. When you're taking time every day to imagine solid, crisp images, swapping out nouns and verbs and adjectives for better, clearer nouns, verbs, and adjectives, trying to tap in to your original voice, when it comes time to make your writing count, your brain will do it automatically. 💪 = ✌️.
As Frankenstein's ill-fated lover, Elizabeth, would say:
"Adieu! Take care of yourself; and, I entreat! write!"