Learn To Be Better

If you’re anything like me, you know what it is to feel like you’re not good enough. Whether you’re a writer, a professional marble disprover (That’s not a marble! You’re off your face if you think that thing’s a marble), or anything else, you have probably come across a task and thought ‘You know what? I ain’t gonna cut it with this one.’

I’ve had that feeling a lot, both with my attempts to write a novel, and in my professional work as an accompanist. The thing is, there is often a simple solution to this feeling. Learn to be better at what you’re doing.

I’m the regular accompanist for three choirs, and fairly often, I have to stand in for accompanists of other choirs. Until a few months ago, I was really struggling, both with my abilities and my self confidence. Whenever I sat down at the piano, I assumed that I would play a load of wrong notes, people would judge me, I’d lose my job and then the whole world would end. I led myself to these conclusions with the false assumption that I was already as good as I could get. I have grade 8 on the piano and a degree in music, as well as years of accompaniment experience.

I was sitting at my piano about three months ago, after a two hour practice session where I had achieved next to nothing. My fingers ached, the pieces were riddled with mistakes, and the next concert was only weeks away. I asked myself why I was not good enough. The easy answer to reach for was that it was all just in my head. People often complimented my playing, so maybe I had nothing to worry about. However, I knew there was more to it than that. Each morning, I’d blast through a few scales and arpeggios before starting on the pieces, but it suddenly occurred to me that there was more I could be doing on the technique side of things.

Years ago, I bought a big book of technical exercises called ‘The Virtuoso Pianist,’ by Hanon. I’d given the book a try, decided it was too boring, and put it aside. However, I got it out again that morning. I made a firm decision that I would spend an hour a day for a couple of weeks working on the exercises, and see where it led me.

That was three months ago, and I’m still doing them. And you know what? A funny thing’s happened. My fingers no longer ache after my practice sessions. Mistakes are disappearing left right and centre. I can suddenly get pieces up to scratch in half the time it used to take me. The timing has been perfect, because I’ve had to practice the music for five choirs for the past couple of weeks. I would not have managed with my previous routine, but now I’m doing a whole lot better with this.

So what does this have to do with writing?

You can apply the same technique to improving when it comes to creative writing. A lot of people assume that the more they write, the better they’ll get. Technically that’s true, but you can easily turbocharge the whole experience with some research. Read prolifically for a start, but look into writing technique too. I came across http://www.onlinewritingtips.com and the resources there are a brilliant starting point.

All too often, we use those familiar words. I’m not good enough. But if we can look past those, and actually start doing something about it, there are few things we can’t achieve. If you struggle to write dialogue, find tips and lessons on writing dialogue. If you’re not happy with your place descriptions, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest. If people are still claiming that something’s a marble, well actually you might be on your own with solving that one.

And of course, above all, keep writing. That way, you’ll be able to measure your progress. Using the benefit of hindsight, see if what you’re writing today is better than what you wrote this time last year. Create, learn, refine, lather, rinse, repeat.



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