What Being a Music School Drop-out Taught Me about Writing

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Tamara Lunardo. Tamara is the editor of the upcoming book What a Woman is Worth (now accepting submissions), and a contributor to Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression. You can connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter @tamaraoutloud.

Long before I ever had thoughts of putting my voice to paper, I had dreams of putting it on stage.

I had a lyric soprano, acceptance into a competitive vocal program, and the enthusiastic support of my coaches and family. I was going to be a singer.

And then I dropped out of music school.

Music School Drop-out
Photo credit: Jason Bachman (Creative Commons)

I realized it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. But I’m grateful, not only that leaving led me to where I belong, but that it taught me how to stay here.

You have to love your art enough to work at it

It didn’t take more than a semester of music theory to see that the work of the craft was sapping my joy of the art. And I realized that I might have had the talent, but I didn’t have what it takes.

I loved to sing — I still do — but loving and being good at your art aren’t nearly enough to make you an artist. It takes the minutiae and tedium of the daily work behind it.

If you want to be more than a lover of writing — if you want to be a writer — then you have to work at it even when the work is far from lovely.

You have to let go of your ego

When I began music school I met literally roomfuls of people who were extraordinarily talented. It was humbling and challenging.

I realized I would have to be okay with not always, or perhaps ever again, being the best in the room.

The only other options were delusion or discouragement.

No matter how talented you are, you will encounter people who are more talented; at the least, you will encounter people who are more successful.

If you want to be a writer, you have to be grateful for your own gift and resist getting discouraged by comparing it to anyone else’s.

You have to practice your craft

When I left music school, I stopped singing.

Sure, I sang along with the radio, but that’s about as close to real vocal exercise as writing informal emails is to real writing exercise. And without proper exercise, I got out of shape.

Now I sing at church, and my voice is still pretty good. But I’ve lost the highest notes; I’ve lost some purity of tone. Vocal agility, breath support, enunciation — none of these are what they once were.

So I can only offer my church pretty good where I was gifted to offer excellent.

No matter where you are with writing, you have to keep yourself in shape. Even if you don’t have a current project, you need to write as though you did.

If you want to be a writer, you have to keep writing like one.

You have to share your gift

When I used to perform, people would let me know how much it moved them. When I began singing at church, people let me know how much it encouraged them.

I realized that all the years in between were years I blessed no one at all — not the least of all, me — by keeping my gift to myself.

It can be scary to put your writing on display, to be vulnerable to criticism or rejection. And even if you’re willing, it can be daunting to know where to begin. But your gifts are never diminished — only multiplied — when you share them.

So breathe in courage, and start as simply as clicking “publish” on the very best blog post you can write.

If you want to be a writer, you have to go share your gift, practice, let go of your ego, and most of all, love your art.

Have you ever dropped out of something? What did you learn?

*Photo credit: Jason Bachman (Creative Commons)