On getting it right

So today we were at a craft festival in town, and there was music playing in the background, and lnhammer pointed out the drummer to me. “She looks like she’s very very determined not to mess up,” he said.

I looked, and I saw he was right: the drummer looked intent and a bit nervous, and whenever she came to a harder bit, her focus deepened, like she was afraid she might miss a beat.

And so she never did miss a beat. But all that focus on not messing up meant something was missing from her playing–it was highly competent, but lacked a certain energy. Passable music, nice beat, but that was it, even though the music wanted something more. Maybe it just wanted more sense that the player was having fun; I don’t know.

I think writers, too, worry a lot when beginning to write–and at various later times, too–about not doing anything wrong. We probably need to worry about this from time to time, in order to get a grasp of craft.

But there’s also a time when we need to let go, let the fun show through, throw our energy into the work, and not worry so much that single wrong step along the way will destroy the whole thing. It probably won’t, and Even if it does, we have an advantage over musicians: we get to edit the performance before it goes live.

Of course, this does cut both ways: before we left someone else said to me, “The drummer is the only interesting musician there; unlike the others, she at least seems awake.” There’s a danger in paying too little attention to craft, too. It’s a balancing act.

But still. You can’t always be focused on the rules or getting it right. Sometimes, you just have to throw yourself into the playing and write.

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