Writing as an Artistic Pursuit: Can It Be True for Musicians?

March 23, 2011

One of the highlights at the recent College Music Society conference in Omaha was the presentation by Sean Burton from Briar Cliff University. His workshop on realizing the potential for viewing the writing process as one of artistic inquiry, based on creative interests, contrasts the vantage point of writing as a task or chore. In general, it is true that the pressure to publish is one of the professional obligations to which we many aspiring College and University performing arts faculty freeze up (or shake) at a mere reference. Such a common response (try this out at a party for extra points) is rooted to a degree in the advancement procedures of tertiary education institutions, and it is bolstered by the rise of online blogs, forums, and the general need to create a virtual paper trail of our thoughts, professional accomplishments, and daily goings-on.

Burton’s presentation resonated with me because, while writing is one of my passions, I often struggle with it. So much of the time putting thoughts to paper in any sort of coherent fashion feels like pulling teeth…or maybe cleaning teeth. Anyways, something akin to my regular dentist appointment; any chance to delay, distract, or disconnect from such tasks are welcome. Yet I can’t help but feel the urge to complete an essay or blog, to fulfill the anticipation of satisfaction that comes with a job (hopefully well) done.

With this in mind, I suggest that we take Burton’s advice and revise our perception of writing. Rather than a task, it can be a rewarding, challenging, and exciting process driven by artistic goals. Of course, there is still the nitty-gritty to deal with, but we can reframe those experiences, too. This brings me back to some thoughts on the art of revision by journalist and writer John Douglas Marshall (critic at the DailyBeast.com).

Here are some tips for improving the writing process, inspired by his writings: 

1) Revisions mean those incoherent ramblings you just wrote are only the beginning.Don’t forget that the first draft is just that – the first attempt at making words into art. Admittedly, this is easier for some than others…but at least you can sleep on it, read over your work, and refine it. If only such process-orientation was accepted in the world of piano-playing. 

2) Revising is easier on the nerves than writing the first draft. You’ve already broken the ice, now it’s time to enjoy the nuance and unpredictability of looking at a page with new eyes. 

3) Try viewing the act of writing as continual revision. Embrace the technology age…cutting and pasting has never been easier. This is one I really like, because my neurosis is somehow quelled by the idea that I can fix as I go. This rarely actually happens, though. 

4) Multiple revisions mean multiple realities. After a half-dozen drafts, it looks like I have six different papers. Revision means renewing, and reshaping our thoughts into new ideas; I never thought about how good that can be. Who knows where those drafts may take you for future projects.  

I must admit, as someone revising two papers for publication/presentation at the moment, this post is a little self-serving – but if we are going to spend hours over this computer, we might as well find ways of enjoying it, right? OK, I’m not gonna lie, it also helps me to think that writing offers the chance to sit at my favorite coffee shop guilt-free, frequently sipping an amazing cappucino. Reading what I just wrote, I must be a writer-in-training….

Check out John Douglas Marshall’s writings here. Another great site for writing enthusiasts is IndieReader.com – filled with articles, a blog, and lots of other goodies.

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