This is going to be one of those weird rambling posts but bear with me.
We recently got a keyboard. The piano-like kind, not the typing one. My partner has decided that he wants to try and revive his piano playing, and after tinkering around on it, I decided that I want to try and teach myself to play a little bit.
First, about him. My partner apparently achieved some ridiculously high level of musical proficiency through formal lessons when he was young, but he’s about the least musical person I’ve met. He sings completely wrong notes and can’t hear it. He has no rhythm. He doesn’t even listen to music.
The thing is, though, he passed the same music tests as people with an ear and a talent for music.
Now, about me. I did a big six weeks of piano when I was ten, and a couple of years of Viola in junior high. Nothing since. I don’t have much of an ear; I’ve been able to pick out a melody or two, but while I can hear when something is wrong, I can’t figure out how to make it right. I like to sing, though I am not good at it. I want to figure out how to play a couple of songs, but I have no interest in formal training or practice.
One thing I’ve found is that it’s so much easier to learn piano now than it used to be. It’s easy to find music for things you like in varying degrees of complexity. There are thousands of videos that can show you how something is played, apps teach you songs Guitar Hero-style. With some diligence, I can learn to play something that sounds like a song, without even really (re)learning how to read music.
What the fuck does all this have to do with writing?
First, look at him. Without talent, it’s possible to learn to play well through nothing but work. The same goes for writing. If you are sitting there wondering if you are imaginative enough, talented enough, creative enough, to really make it as a writer, stop right there. You can be good just by learning your craft and working on it.
You may not be a literary genius, but you know, literary genius isn’t clear until someone first gets through all the working of learning to be good. So put aside whether or not you are enough, and get to work.
Next, look at me. With a little bit of work, these days it’s not too hard for me to fake having some musical ability, even though anyone who knows anything about music could quickly see that I don’t really know shit. That’s also true of writing. These days, anyone can fill a bunch of pages with words and self-publish and be an author. But that doesn’t mean that they know their shit.
I’m not knocking self-publishing because there’s still a place for it, much like there’s still a place for people like me who want to learn to play a song or two without actually being any kind of a musician.
If you’re a writer watching people who don’t know what they are doing, and watching other people heap praise and kudos on them, don’t despair over the state of the world. It’s easier to learn to play a song. It’s easier to put a book out.
But to write well is still a matter of putting the work into it.
(Unlike I did with this blog post.)