Experimentation is Your Friend
by Amy Sundberg
When I was at college studying voice, I had a classmate, “Debbie”, who was an amazing singer. Now she’s living in New York City, singing and acting professionally. Debbie has achieved her high level of skill for many reasons: quick grasp of vocal technique, acting chops, good work ethic and dedication. But our teacher shared another reason for Debbie’s success that has stuck with me ever since. Apparently Debbie came from a very musical household and felt very comfortable experimenting with her voice: trying out new techniques, fooling around with singing, finding out what was even physically possible for her. And because of all this creative practice, she found her true voice a lot faster than most of us student singers.
When I began teaching student singers myself, I passed this lesson on to them. But I noticed that many of my students, similar to myself in college, were hesitant to let loose with their voices. They were self conscious, awkward, even fearful. What if they were bad? What if, worst of all fates, they ran out of breath or their voices cracked? I told them not to worry about the result or what they might sound like; we were conducting a science experiment, and it didn’t matter how it turned out. But even with my active encouragement, it was an uphill road for them to feel comfortable breaking out of their shells and trying new (and sometimes seemingly silly) things to help themselves improve as singers.
The same lesson holds true with writing. Just as in singing, every writer has her own unique voice that takes time to find and cultivate. The more courageous and adventurous we are about leaving the beaten track of our writing comfort zones, the more we learn about writing, whether it be about plotting, characterization, or world building. The more we experiment with our prose or our narrative, the more we understand the essentials of what makes the kind of story we want to tell. The more risks we take in the themes we’re willing to explore or the truths our characters are forced to face, the more powerfully our work will resonate.
As writers, we also face the same self consciousness as singers. Both disciplines embrace the act of laying the soul bare. We worry about how our stories will turn out. We worry that they will be bad, that they won’t say what we’re trying to say, that others will judge us for our mediocre work. We wear the critical Editor hat when we want to be wearing the creative Writer hat, second guessing ourselves every step of the way.
We’re not completely wrong when we’re afraid like this. After all, sometimes when I experiment, the result is really terrible. But if I dwell too much on hammering my own work, I’m missing the point. If I want to become a better writer, then I have to learn and take risks and not quite hit the ledge I’m reaching for, so that another time in the future, I’ll clear it easily. I have to give myself room to find my voice. I have to detach myself from the outcome and push myself as though it were impossible for me to fail.
Because if I’m experimenting with the end goal of becoming the best writer I can be, then it truly is impossible for me to fail.
Amy Sundberg (http://practicalfreespirit.com) is a writer of YA and speculative fiction, a musician, and a blogger. She loves traveling, musical theater, and cherry pie, and lives in California with her husband and little dog.
Follow her on Twitter: @amysundberg