How To Be A Good Writer: Be Passionate And Feel Free
How playing the piano taught me to stop seeking perfection
“To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable!”
― Ludwig van Beethoven
Have you been trying to write the perfect Medium story or blog post?
I suggest you stop trying. I did it for some time myself, and it made the whole writing process terribly long and complicated. I was trying to make every sentence perfect the first time round, spending an enormous amount of time fiddling with the details.
I did it with music, too. In the beginning I thought I had to play every piece on the piano perfectly, every single time.
But it doesn’t work that way at all. Either with music or writing.
Dropping your guard
I recently wrote this story about starting my first fantasy novel. It was a spontaneous expression of my feelings one morning, when I woke up at 6 a.m. to write. I didn’t plan it very thoroughly and I didn’t think about its structure very much. I just quickly penned down my thoughts in a sincere and rather naive way.
I say naive because sometimes, when I write drafts, I tend to think in terms of what I “should” write so people eventually get something out of a particular story.
This time I did it in a totally different way. I opened up and wrote what I felt. One might think that’s dangerous in a way, because you put your defenses down and let people peek inside your head.
But that’s what makes a story resonate with people at the end of the day.
The story about my first novel was received quite well. It was actually as popular as other stories, which took me days to plan and research thoroughly.
Being Greek, I’m lucky to be able to speak a very interesting and beautiful language.
The Greek word ωραίο (/ɔ.ˈrɛ.ɔ/), which translates as nice or beautiful, originates from the concept of serendipity, as it originally meant “timely”. It comes from the word ώρα ( /ˈora/), which means time.
Something is beautiful when it happens in its proper time, like blooming plants or ripe fruit. Writing is beautiful if it happens the moment you’re inspired, when you feel like writing. We tell beautiful stories when we think less and feel more.
“You can’t control everything, darling.”
That’s what Effie, my girlfriend at the time, said to me, a couple of days after I had a bicycle accident. We were in the car, and she asked me what’s the biggest lesson I think I learned from the accident. I love having these conversations with her, so I took my time to guess. I couldn’t.
Her answer woke me up, though.
Flashback two years earlier, when I started learning to play the piano. It’s my third or fourth lesson, and I’m sitting at my teacher’s piano, trying to get a tune to sound perfect. It drove her mad. “You can’t stop every couple of notes and correct yourself, that’s not music” she said. “Keep playing, it doesn’t matter if you get a note wrong. Even the greatest composers make mistakes in live performances, but they keep playing anyway.”
At the time that comment didn’t make any sense whatsoever. You don’t have to get it perfect every time? How does that even work?
But it does. Philip Glass is one of the greatest composers alive, and in this extraordinary performance of “Mad Rush” he plays the wrong note. It’s just a slip of the finger, but you can hear it clearly at 7:07 if you listen.
Being prepared to be flawed is part of who we are. My spontaneous story was received well, because it reflected my thoughts and feelings. People connected with it and accepted its imperfections. That story was me.
Philip Glass makes mistakes and he’s undoubtedly a great composer and pianist. We love his music, because it’s a result of the composer expressing himself. We don’t mind the odd slip of the finger every now and then, because it’s irrelevant in the context of the performance. It doesn’t affect how we perceive his work.
So, where does that leave you or me?
Put your heart in it and it’s going to be beautiful
You can’t control everything and you shouldn’t try to.
It’s no use spending too long polishing your stories. Focusing too much on the details takes your attention away from the big picture, and you end up thinking out of context. You lose your unique perspective, which is what the rest of us are looking for in your stories.
Don’t get me wrong, you do need to review and edit a piece of writing and get the details right. But writing with your heart should be your priority. That’s what’s going to make it more relatable for your audience, and not the boring things, like your skills, your knowledge, or excessive, meticulous attention to detail.
Before you write your next piece, take a moment to think.
Why do you do what you do? Whatever that might be — writing, painting, singing, anything.
How do you express yourself through it?
How does it make you feel?
And then you may start writing, and tell people the things you need to tell them.
Not for them. For yourself.
I totally agree with our friend, Ludwig. Do what you do with passion, because not doing so is inexcusable.