by Karis Walsh
After a short break to celebrate the publication of my second book, Worth the Risk, I’m back to work on Something New. I’m glad to be moving on to a fresh project, but I am still struggling to adapt to the writing process. My control freak side believes I’ll be successful if I sit at my computer for a specific amount of time and aim for a specific word count every day. And that side of me is partially right – writing requires self-discipline, persistence, consistency. But I’m discovering that my real flashes of inspiration choose to completely disregard my attempts to schedule them. Those bits of dialogue that ring true, the personality traits that suddenly give life to a character, the strings that connect scenes so they form a coherent story – these ideas usually strike at inconvenient and unexpected moments. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to turn off the shower or treadmill or Sonicare so I could scramble around (soapy or sweaty or trying not to swallow toothpaste) for a piece of paper and pen. Often, my regular writing time is devoted more to deciphering and transcribing what I’ve scribbled on the back of receipts or junk-mail envelopes than to coming up with anything new.
I’ve found this same dichotomy to be true in other areas as well. I’ve recently returned to music lessons after a year-long hiatus, and the transition back to regular playing has been painful. Partly in a physical sense because my muscles are out of shape and I’ve lost the tiny calluses on the tips of my fingers that protect them from the viola strings. But I also mean painful in an aesthetic sense. What skills I once had are rusty, so my flaws come shining through. (While not exactly tone-deaf, I certainly qualify as tone-hard-of-hearing. And – something you might witness if you ever have the dubious opportunity to watch me dance – I am rhythmically challenged.) I’ve been trying to tackle these problems by spending an allotted time each day on etudes and scales and shifting exercises; but, while the routine of practice will help, I know it won’t make me a musician. Real musicality – beyond mere technical proficiency – will only come if I am open to the moments outside of my practice time when I have some little epiphany about the meaning of the music. The connections to a piece that are only allowed in when I’m relaxed and simply listening – not frantically trying to get my posture and fingering correct. The unplanned realizations that hit while I’m walking outside or lost in thoughts of love and suddenly some nuance behind the composer’s notes becomes clear.
Writing, music, life. We try and try to plan them. To schedule and organize and control every detail so we can make progress or meet goals or simply get through the day. But the real magic happens in the between times, when a jolt of meaning slips through the cracks and refuses to be ignored. And then we find ourselves turning off the shower and leaving a trail of soapy, soggy footprints as we go in search of a pen or a paintbrush or an instrument or a lover so we can express the inspiration that has grabbed hold of us. Because if we ignore it in the moment, its power fades away.