I have so many long, high-stakes writing projects due in the next few weeks. So, after work, I come home, get out my laptop, and type towards what feels like a ridiculously large word count. As I write, I usually listen to music—The Shin’s Oh, Inverted World, Telemann’s Pastorelle en Musique, and Dvorak’s Requiem seem to be my most intimate tonal companions at the moment. Of course, these familiar songs and movements remind me of my dear musician friends: Lovely people I cannot actually talk to right now, because I have to not suck as a writer.
Yet, I feel their presence as I write. My musician friends are some of the deepest delights of my life. I love them for their kindness, their sensitivity, and above all, their patience. They gamely tolerate me, singing in their choirs, attending their premiers, and gracelessly trying to discuss music theory with them. They are the people from my inner circle who get my quiet, shy, inner life the best, understanding what makes me tick as a creator of stories.
One of my closest friends, an excellent musician and a profound writer in her own right, describes musicians and writers as opposite sides of the same coin. I get that. Especially now that I am spending most of my free time in front of a laptop. For me, music and prose are artistic expressions of sensual textures, technical excellence, and emotions. In order to produce something decent, you must mix these three things together in balanced, interesting ways. If you posses empathy and good technique, your job as a musician or writer becomes much easier. And, if you plan to read your work out loud, the sound and rhythm of words can have just as much of an impact on your audience as a beautifully sung aria.
Where they differ is in how they connect with others. Music is present, immediate. Writing, not so much. I can write in my room and have no idea what impact my work is making on others. In a music hall, there is instant gratification. You can watch the body language of the audience, wink at a friend, catch the eye of your teacher or director for affirmation. People influence your performance, whether you want them to or not. Another musician friend of mine put it well when he said: “I have spent my entire life learning how to forget that I have an audience.” This experience of forgetting is not one that I live out as I “perform” the task of writing. Instead, I spend most of my time remembering that I have an audience. Being tweeted and quoted by strangers helps this process—but, I still am surprised when the creations of my private inner life become public.
All I need to create is me and my laptop. And, I cannot get reassuring gazes from my laptop. Its screen simply mirrors me: my emotions, my fears, my mistakes, and my hopes for myself and my life with others, as I play with words and fight grammar.