Have you ever learned lessons in one area of life, only to find that they apply quite well to another domain? Singing has taught me a few things about writing.
As a quick background, I sing classical choral and solo works. All through college I performed in musical theater, recitals, and chorus concerts. Although I was not fearless, live performance provided just enough adrenaline to make things exciting.
Then I put singing aside to do other things after college. When I returned again, my nerves had changed. Before a solo performance, the adrenaline rush threatened to steal my breath, and made the run-up to a performance painful and anxious. I had to figure this out.
I’ve settled on a few mental strategies in working through performance anxiety. Not only do they help with singing; they also get me through uncertainty and doubt in the writing process. On that note, I share them here.
Give yourself permission to be imperfect
Singers must know the notes and words, and work to improve their craft. Writers, likewise, must research, write, revise, and edit with care. But perfection never happens.
If you wait to be perfect, you’ll never perform or write.
Focus on audience needs
In any live performance, the audience is there to enjoy themselves. When I sing, it’s not about me — it’s about the music. A performer’s obligation is to communicate with the audience. Focus outside yourself.
As a writer, consider what your audience needs. If you’re not certain about what or why you are writing, think about your readers. What do they need to read? Are you helping others? Do you get positive feedback? If so, keep going.
Commit to the performance
Live performances are fraught with peril. You might miss a note or an entrance. Violinists drop their bows, strings snap, cell phones ring, choristers faint… What matters is what happens next. Do you beat yourself up midstream, or commit to the performance, imperfect though it is?
I learned this lesson during the worst singing/performing failure of my life. A small a cappella group I belonged to was performing a short piece for soprano and chorus, a brief excerpt from the massive Verdi Requiem. This piece is a heartbreaking, intensely quiet plea for eternal rest for our loved ones. At the end, the soprano soars up to a high B flat, which floats softly over the chorus.
Singing the soprano solo, I was completely committed to the performance. But at the final word “Requiem,” I was so worried about making the high note as light and pianissimo as possible that my throat simply closed. Nothing came out.
It was quiet, alright. My quest for the perfection had killed the note. All I could hear in my head was my failure — the deafening silence at the ultimate moment.
After the concert had ended, I was making a beeline for the exit, anxious to disappear. A gentleman from the audience searched me out. His words stay with me to this day: “I heard that last note, and it was glorious.”
If you care deeply about what you’re writing, you’ll make mistakes. It won’t be perfect. But you will connect with someone in the audience. Someone will hear what you’re trying to say, and find it glorious.
Performance trumps perfection. Perform. Write.
Originally published at annejanzer.com on February 4, 2016.