In my freshman year of college a few things happened where I felt I had to decide between being a musician and being a writer.
I had gotten to the point in the repertoire as a violinist where I’d either have to become a professional or keep it as a hobby. To take the professional route would require me to spend a dozen or more hours a day in practice and let go of most other time commitments in my life. I had concertized; I had been in orchestras, even toured a bit — but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted above all else.
Alongside my musical studies in those years, I also studied theater, acting and playwriting. It just so happened that in this same period of my freshman year, I had entered a young playwrights festival contest and got word that I was one of the contest winners. The prize was to have my play produced professionally.
The process of seeing my play come to life for the first time — working with a director and dramaturg, doing revisions, watching actors audition to play my characters, seeing them bring the roles to life — all of it transformed me. My words, my thoughts, my voice were not only coming out but being affirmed by professional artists and by audiences.
As an 18-year old, this took me in a direction I didn’t quite expect. Music was always my main thing; theater was second. But winning that contest and seeing my play performed in front of me that year clarified my decision.
I decided to be a writer.
Why? For the “glory”? No. There were gloriously satisfying moments as a musician too — performing solo on stage to enthusiastic applause after hours of learning a piece, winning regional or national competitions, touring the country. It required my creativity, my being, poured into the work, just like with writing. I knew that either field would require a lot of un-glorious work, rejection, and persistence, like in any arts field.
What was different?
The difference is that as a musician I’d be interpreting someone else’s creation; but as a writer I’d be creating my own work.
True, in interpreting a great concerto or sonata, I showed creativity as a musician in my approach, my style, pacing or tone. But it would still be, at best, interpretation, not creation. (Of course if I were a composer, I would be creating music; it would be comparing apples and apples to writing, but this was apples and oranges. I wasn’t interested in being a composer.)
In writing a play, story or screenplay, I was free to create a world and its people, not just interpret a world. Even with all the discipline required, I still had free reign, staying up at night dreaming of new worlds and plots and people. It was much more satisfying to me, and turned out to remain so, in the years that followed. I’m so glad I decided for writing.
But music was still a big part of who I was, of my artistic identity. It still is. How did I (and do I) keep music alive in my life?
- I still played violin when I could, performing for events. I also took up guitar and played in youth group. Now I play both instruments for our daughters and at family and friend gatherings.
- I listened to my favorite composers/pieces, especially when writing. I still love the influence of music on my writing and listen/write to music weekly.
- And most importantly, I decided to write my biggest work to date — a novel series and adapted script series — about the lives, loves and careers of a family of musicians over three generations. All that I have experienced thus-far as a musician, writer, artist and human being, have been brought to bear in this story, stretching me and my ‘voice’ like no other project has before. I hope to share it with you someday.
Everyone chooses their own creative path. Mine is just one of many examples which can hopefully encourage you to ask the honest questions about what would be most satisfying to you in your life’s work:
- What creative path are you on? Is it the one that attracts you the most?
- What is most satisfying about your work along that path? What is the least satisfying?
- Do you see yourself staying on that creative path or forging a new one?
Sometimes our creative lives require adjustments. But the adjustment isn’t necessarily across an entire genre/field, like music to writing or painting to poetry. Sometimes the adjustment is within the same field:
- In music, perhaps you are meant to transition at some point from being an instrumentalist to being a conductor or composer.
- In film or theater, perhaps you are a writer who should try their hand at directing (the subject of a future post on this blog, stay tuned!)
- In visual art, perhaps you are a photographer or painter who should try to shoot a film or write and illustrate a graphic novel or children’s storybook.
- Or some other transition not listed here!
Being willing to try something different than what we always expected we’d do will grow us as artists, and as people. Rarely do we look back and regret when we try something new creatively. Even if it doesn’t result in a huge directional change, it deepens our understanding of who we are and aren’t — why we do what we do and don’t do something else. Anything that helps us clarify what is most satisfying to us in life or work is invaluable.