This is my cello. See how he sits there against my studio wall, surrounded by More Important Things? Watch how he admonishes me silently from his stand. Look closely, maybe you can see the dust there on his shoulders, the reproach in that lovely costume eye-patch he’s sporting. Yet each time I pass him or glance his way, a small feisty part of me is quite convinced that if I picked him up and played him, something exquisite would pour through me along the bow, into the strings and body, and spill forth singing and sonorous, resonant and ethereal. It will just spring from us almost unbidden, effortlessly, with great passion. The experience will feel transcendent.
But it’s a complex act, playing a cello, and my playing, when I got round to it today, did not sound good.
There are many technical complexities in cello playing, and that’s before you even think about the artistry or the soul of the piece of music. I do know just how tight my bow should be, and I can tune my instrument perfectly. I can pick out an interesting melody and sometimes even hit the right note. I sound almost terrific when I am wearing big headphones and playing along to some *loud* cello music. But my small knowledge is far from enough.
Playing the cello is something I’d really like to do well, but it’s not on my urgent list. I do feel more strongly about it than learning to blow glass or use a pottery wheel or surf and other things I’d quite like to do but could never hope to teach myself. I probably should take some cello lessons and practice every day, and I will when I have the time, money, and desire.
In the meantime playing the cello is really hard and not always fun, in fact. Actually, it’s a lot like writing (c’mon, you knew where I was going with this). However, I can readily laugh off how bad I sound as I drag bow across strings and still happily fantasize about one day being listenable. I know I’m not my screechy cello playing, anymore than I am my excellent scone baking skills or my tragic inability to sew. But that’s hard to do with your writing, isn’t it? If our writing isn’t good, we feel it in our core as some terrible damning exposition of what’s deepest and most wonderful (or wrong) within us. Indeed,if I aspired to be the next Yo Yo Ma, I imagine the way I play the cello would be upsetting.
The thing is, we all understand it takes many lessons, a full understanding of tools, and many years of dedicated daily practice and fine tuning of artistry to become a concert musician—and yet we think we should be accomplished writers the moment we sit down to write, and then again each time we write. And when we fear that’s not happening, we quake at the thought of critiques. We shiver at the thought of sharing, of exposing our work and ourselves. We get really bloody frustrated. We let our writing and passion catch dust.
Does that make any sense at all?
All published writers have a long learning curve before they actually "make it." Everyone’s first attempts and early drafts sound like caterwauling cellos. So practice and play, be happy you’re on your way. One day, you will be a maestro.