Voice and process

Learning to write and learning to sing really are similar processes.

Today at my voice lesson I found myself struggling with a piece I used to count as one of my strongest. The past couple weeks, though, something has been missing when I practice the song; things just haven’t been coming together as they used to, even though otherwise my singing continues to improve.

My voice teacher suggested that this was because lately we’d been focusing on opening out the higher range of my voice, and the piece I was trying to sing was mostly in my original, lower range.

We talked a bit about how sometimes when you’re learning new things, you have to let the old ones go. You sort of have to let them come apart, in order to reintegrate them into the whole of what you now know.

We spent the rest of the lesson on a higher pieces. These were pieces I’d always struggled with more–but now, they were the ones that fell into place, rather than the more practiced piece.

This is all fascinating to me, because this process–letting things go, finding my way back to them later–has happeend with my writing repeatedly. There’ll be some shiny new technique that I’m particularly proud of. I’ll write a story or a few stories using that technique, pleased with the new level my writing seems to have moved to. But then–I’ll find myself focusing on some other aspect of my writing, or some other sort of story, and without wanting to I’ll find myself letting that technique go. I’ll tell myself my writing has changed; that I’m not doing “that” (whatever “that” is), anymore. Sometimes I’ll regret the loss and wonder what I did to cause it; sometimes it will feel a more natural shift in focus.

And then it will come back. When I’m not looking, the technique will find its way back into my writing. It won’t be nearly so shiny, but it will be more comfortable, like shoes already broken in; and it will be stronger, too.

Maybe technique is the wrong word. The something I was doing, and had stopped doing, and thought gone.

One concrete example: two of my earliest kids’ short stories (“Windwood Rose” and “Drawing the Moon” are heavy on a sort of lyrical voice that I’m fond of. Yet that voice wasn’t right for many of the stories that followed, and after a time I realized I’d set it aside. I regretted that, but the stories I was writing didn’t want it. Yet the past couple years, I’m suddenly using that voice again (for “Stone Tower,” the gothic story due out in the fall; for “Lost or Forgotten,” a short story still being marketed; for other works in progress). I’m not using it for every story I write (because it’s still often not appropriate), but when I do use it, I find I have a lot more conscious control over the word choice and image choice behind it–and that my writing is stronger as a result.

I also find myself working those techniques and that control into the background of stories otherwise not dominated by that voice.

Sometimes you have to let the things you know go for a while, in order to bring them to a new level.

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