What Keeps You From Writing?
A few weeks ago, before the election, I chatted with a neighbor about two local rent control initiatives on our ballot. As someone who worked with people evicted by landlords in our over-heated housing market, she had valuable perspective into two competing ballot measures.
She wanted to share her ideas in writing, but between work and raising two young children, she hadn’t found the time to write to the local paper. As a result, a great number of us missed out on her unique perspective.
Many people have ideas worth sharing, but life gets in the way of doing the work. However, daily obligations aren’t the only barriers to putting our ideas out into the world. Sometimes, we lack the courage.
Writing is one way of reaching across our differences and connecting through stories and ideas, even if only fleetingly. It’s a powerful form of human connection and communication.
What’s keeping you from putting your most important ideas out into the world?
Even when we are committed to our ideas and want to spread them, the idea of putting them out into the world can be intimidating.
Many of us are content to let others do the writing and thinking, and then to share the message or post a comment.
A Chorus of Followers
If you are among the more than 40 million Americans* who sing in a chorus, then this analogy will make sense to you. In any section, there are leaders and followers. Those who lead are there right on time at every entrance. Other singers listen for a fraction of a second to make sure that the entrance is right before they start.
It’s a natural inclination, and we’ve all done it. No one wants to be the singer taking the unbilled solo.
But what protects the individual harms the group. Choruses with too many followers can be timid and reactive, and tend to lag behind the beat.
The same is true for society at large. People with important perspectives or stories to share often remain quiet, hoping that saner voices will prevail. They then chime in with a Like on Facebook, or a retweet.
There’s risk in speaking up, in saying what you mean, in committing yourself to a performance.
I’m not judging – I find this difficult myself, at least when it comes to writing. I’m working on it.
But perhaps we need to speak out about what’s important to us, to share our stories and truly listen to those of others.
The Art of Finding Your Voice
The best choral singers don’t carelessly blast in on entrances. They do the work, learn the music, follow the conductor, know the notes, and listen carefully to what’s happening around them.
They understand that their contribution must make sense in the broader context of the piece. They prepare and work for the performance. And they rehearse – practicing entrances in rehearsals, until the fear disappears and the notes blend in.
Writers should do the same.
The Internet is filled with fast, surface-level, gut-reaction writing. We don’t really need more of that.
If you write for discovery, dig deeper, listen to others, and try to understand what they’re hearing, you can contribute something. You can lead, make an entrance that inspires and encourages those around you.
To change the timbre of this chorus we’re all in, we’ll need more thoughtful leaders. It may be messy and discordant for a while, but if we all start listening ad contributing, it’s bound to get better.
*Chorus America says that more than 42 million Americans sing in choral groups! You’re out there, I know it.
Photo: San Francisco Choral Artists – a wonderful chamber choral group in the Bay Area.