On Writing and Music

I've been working with a musician who's writing a memoir. (It's a good read; he takes us from playing in the subways in New York City to playing the blues in West Virginia to jamming with the members of Rod Stewart's band in Los Angeles.) Reading through his various drafts, I've been struck by the endless similarities between writing and music.

Here are a few of the pearls to arise from his work -- along with my own interpretation of how they relate to writing:

Never let the solo overshadow the song. If you're writing about personal experiences, make sure your work is about more than just you and that the larger song -- or universal truth -- is allowed to emerge.

Keep the tape rolling. My client knew an accomplished record producer in Los Angeles who would not turn on the recording equipment only when his bands were well-rehearsed and ready to perform. Instead, he started rolling the tape early, during practice sessions, and kept it rolling long after the 'official' performance ended. This allowed the producer to catch riffs and spontaneous bursts of lyrics and perfectly executed chord structures he might have otherwise missed.

Writers, too, can keep the tape rolling by keeping the words flowing. Don't wait to start writing until you think you have all the structural and story elements worked out. Start the tape rolling early -- the writing will lead you toward your own perfect recording.

Expect to fail. This one is probably pretty obvious. Musicians, like writers, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists and any other professional who truly cares about the work they are doing will experience a lot of failure on the road to success. So start collecting those rejection slips -- each one will lead you closer to success.

Listen to your intuition. You don't have to be a highly experienced or pedigreed musician to know when something about a song just doesn't sound right. Same goes for writing. Humans are a storytelling species, which means we've all grown up telling, reading and listening to stories. Trust the music you hear inside.

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