Monthly Archives: February 2013

Practicing with other artists: The best way to get past the anxiety of having to deliver

or: why you should blow raspberries

profile of horse's head with teeth

Even horses know how to blow raspberries.
CC image “Silly Face Runner Up” courtesy of Linda Hartman on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I thought I knew all about inflection.

In voice class this week, our teacher had us do an exercise with the tongue twister: Esau Wood sawed wood.  All the wood Esau Wood saw, Esau Wood would saw.

And so on.

We went around the circle one by one, playing with intonation, pauses, emphasis, volume. I was halfway around the circle, exactly opposite from the teacher, and so each time the chain began, I had the opportunity to hear half the group test out their voices before the old saw got to me.

Nothing like test prep when the questions are always the same! Or are they?

The first time around (“Esau Wood sawed wood”) I was prepared to be disappointed. Listening to everyone who came before me and hearing the adjustments our teacher was asking them to make, I mentally rehearsed my own delivery.

This can’t be hard, I thought to myself. I have experience reading aloud.

Not so.  My puffed-up pride landed flat on its face upon delivery. Yeah, the pauses were there… but I was rumbling in the fry, and apparently totally lacking in intonation.

Coming from a family of singers, the last bit particularly stung. And the “fry,” as I was coming to realize, was me hanging out in my chest space every time I spoke, rumbling away. James Earl Jones I am not. What was I doing there?

My teacher had me go over Esau wood sawed wood a few more times, and I overcompensated by getting really high-pitched at least once. The experience was a gentle reminder of the difference between practicing something by myself and for myself, and delivering in the spotlight when all eyes are on me.

This is one of the things that freaks me out about sharing my artistic work, and I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way. There’s a difference between doing something for ourselves (“it’s fun, I’m playing, it’s just for me”) and presentation (“now, it’s official, and everyone else is going to have an opinion on it. Gulp!”).

I wrote a whole post on the need to just practice our art. But there comes a point where we’re going to want to show off our accomplishments, and I, for one, dislike the sensation of being like a deer in the headlights.

I love voice class. You might say the meeting is a masochistic experience, since I go in every week knowing I’m going to sound funny, I’m going to feel silly. But everybody else has to deal with the same expectation. We’re all in it together. I may have cornered the deal on pauses; but my neighbor’s voice sings in clear tones, no frying at all. And we all blow raspberries at the start of class and sometimes throughout the middle of the session, too. A bunch of adults, jumping up and down, shaking their heads and going “Bbbbbbbbbbbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! BBBBBbbbbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRR!”

That’s one of the things I love about my writing workshop, too. We’re all in the fry together, shaking out our language and stretching it.

Being crazy in a group, I’m finding, is the easiest way for me to find my own voice.

== == ==

When was the last time you really allowed yourself to be silly?

How not reading (and drawing, instead) helped my writing

or: Why you might not need to be a Good Reader to be a Good Writer

wall of art supplies and colored pastels

Add color to your life.
“Jacksons Drawing Supplies” CC image courtesy of Smallest Forest on Flickr.

You know what’s helped me do a lot more writing in recent weeks?


You know what else?

Not reading.

Also: going to the art supply store, visiting a photography exhibit, planning a DIY project to fix two of my chairs, and signing up for a voice and speech class.

Without planning it, I’ve begun bashing out 1,000 words or more a day — and without restricting myself to which piece I add the 1,000 words, I’ve watched at least three different projects grow. I’ve jotted a ton of creative riffs in my notebook and even… shocker… started keeping a journal again.

But this doesn’t make sense! I was contraverting one of the Golden Rules of Writing, which is: read! You can’t be a Good Writer without it, so the maxim goes. But sometimes, reading can get in the way.

It can be a crutch. We can use it as a distraction.

At least, I did.

So for a week, at the suggestion of the amazing book, The Artist’s Way, I didn’t do it. I didn’t read.

It was frustrating as all hell. I curtailed my emailing and my tweeting, and I didn’t allow myself to listen to podcasts or music when I got annoyed about something that I couldn’t read. I didn’t watch Hulu.

But what really floored me was the drawing thing.

Now, to quote Dickens: “Marley was dead as a doornail. This must be understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am about to relate.”

And my inner artist was dead as a doornail.

When I was a little kid, it’s true, I loved to draw, and I was always trying to get better. I wasn’t good at it, you see; I could tell that what I was drawing didn’t match the vision in my head. Still, that didn’t stop me, for years, from making daily pilgrimages to the back of my parents’ backyard every spring, to check on the progress of the crocuses coming up… and to sketch their daily progress.

What I really wanted was to catch them at the magical moment the buds appeared… or when the petals began to open. But somehow, I always missed that moment.

I haven’t drawn for twenty years: from the point I decided I should stop wasting my time and money taking art classes, because I would never be any good.

Before I did my reading deprivation week, I went to an art supply store. It was an idea I resisted. Going felt presumptuous and scary. I went because The Artist’s Way said so, and I was desperate. I hadn’t been to an art supply store in years. Those are for artists. What would I be doing there?

Yet I found myself in front of an array of sketchbooks, itching to get one.

Within a few weeks, I was at a park… with the 14” by 17” sketchbook I had bought (classic cream), a mechanical pencil and an eraser.

I, the non-artist, the one who couldn’t draw, was drawing a landscape.

I was there for over an hour. I think. I lost track of the time. It was windy, and cloudy, and my hands were going numb by the time I left. I had to clutch the edges of the notebook in a death grip so that the pages wouldn’t go flying all over the place. (Note to self: acquire large art clip(s).) I had my hood up so my hair wouldn’t block my view. I did a LOT of erasing. The page got smudged with charcoal, creased by wind. I gnarfed at each new gust with animal obstinacy.

reflecting pool at botanic gardens

Reflecting pool © AOC. All rights reserved.

I couldn’t wait to go home and write about it. After I did a little more drawing, of course.

When I came up for air and looked at the image, whole, I caught myself thinking: Hey, that’s pretty good!

This was revolutionary.  I’d been telling myself for at least two decades how much I sucked as an artist. Now, I was plotting to get out and sketch a few days a week?

Yes, I absolutely had to get home and write about that.


== ==

Have any of you ever tried reading deprivation? What types of non-writing activities have inspired you to write?