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)

42 thoughts on “What Being a Music School Drop-out Taught Me about Writing

  1. As a guy who’s learned many of life’s lessons from music… I can relate.  I’m convinced that the God-given LOVE of doing something is a true gift.  The one that doesn’t count the hours spent and eventually learns to polish a final work without obsessing over it.  Getting comfortable with your voice and celebrating the voices of others.  A blessed place to share what God’s given.  Great post, thanks!

  2. I dropped out of music school too and switched to an engineering degree, which also helped me become a tech writer, not to mention the boost I got from working on and with emerging technologies. I still composed music, and it still plays in 14 countires, which sounds impressive until you see my annual royalty check ($32.46).

    I’ve since written a non-fiction book that was featured in Publishers Weekly, and it doesn’t pay the bills either.

    What does pay the bills is a combo of my engineering degree and teaching WordPress to non-geeks, neither of which would be successful if I hadn’t learned to write well or established the disciplines I first learned via music, which include crafting and practicing my art and connecting with folks by giving it feet to walk in the world on its own sans ego attachment.

    Thank you for the guest post, and ditto what Aaron said in the comments as well.

  3. I so needed to read this today, too. While I’m not at a place in life to be a writer by trade – that’s not what I’ve been called to at this point in life – I do have an inner writer longing to burst out. Just this week I’ve dusted off a years old project, and began working on it again, all the while thing “really? No way is this good enough. What if….” so, thank you for the encouragement!!

  4. Hmmm, putting your talents/gifts “out there” is one of the tougher things in life to do.  And putting it in print is somewhat even more challenging because once it’s on paper, you can’t go back and edit.  No more revisions.  Ever.  Your mistakes are etched in stone for all the world to read, ridicule, and place on a dusty shelf.  But that’s the beauty of it, right?  The challenge to mold one’s craft and beautify your talent so as to bless others and make them smile.

    Great post….and madly encouraging!

  5. You know what I like about this post?

    You took something (dropping out of music school) that people would normally take as a disappointment and redeemed it.

    You learned from it and used it to help someone else.

    You just taught me that a “failure” can be a foothold up to something greater…something different…something that only God could dream up (like Ephesians 3:20 says).

    Love your writing, Tamara!  Thanks!  =)

  6. Thanks Jeff for this guest post. Thanks Tamara for the insight.

    I am SO rusty in my music and my drawing. Life keeps getting in the way, I say. I have started writing more as a way to quell the creative beast fighting to get out. Periodically, I need to create something or I get “impossible to live with” says my wife.  I think I am a little easier to live with now. Thanks for the encouragement.

  7. Thanks for sharing,  I love this post!  I think it’s a message that needs to be heard. When we step out to do things, sometimes being vulnerable in that is not even the hardest part. Sometimes it’s following a particular path for a while, then being flexible to where we are really supposed to be going and letting one career path go to embrace another.

    1. Yes, I think that’s true with any change in life, and it’s so bolstering to me to know that God directs our paths. Makes stepping out a teensy bit less frightening.

  8. I lived a very similar experience, but had already gone through three years of my music major at or near the top of my class both in performance and theory  before I figured out I didn’t want to pay the price it took to go pro.  However, I was willing to give my all to be a teacher, and there I met with success.  When the work you put into your craft stops refueling you and starts draining you, it’s time to review how passionate you really are.

    That’s why I love writing.  It gives back to me as I give myself to it.

    1. Vulnerability has been so important to me in my writing, and it’s paid off– not only does it free me to live more truthfully, I see it encouraging others to do the same.

  9. Jeff,

    I am new here, and while I continue to try to trim up my Reader feeds, I was compelled to subscribe.  

    Scanning over the posts, dipping deeper into a most, forced me to hit the RSS button.  

    I have a feeling that sharing will come next.


  10. I teach. I teach knowing that I can’t predict the economy. I teach knowing that students may not get a job as there are people with Master’s Degrees receiving Public Assistance. I am back in school because I have a lot of questions. You were humbled in the presence of the talent of others; I was humbled in the presence of that much knowledge… However they admit to not having the answers that I am looking for. What I love about it, is that they are willing to help me take steps to find it.

    I never did drop out of any instution, but I wanted to become a singer. I realized it wasn’t for me because I liked having fun with singing. I was scared that I would treat it like a job and that it would lose its luster. Who knows, right? I definitely incorporate it in my lessons once in a while.

  11. This is well worth reading, and I appreciate your honesty. I’m also a blog-writer about writing, and I know how important it is to try always to be real and helpful at the same time. 

  12. I dropped out of classical guitar lessons, watercolor classes and got cut from seventh grade cheerleading  competition. I found my pick, my paintbrush and, to my family’s relief, my pompom…in the pen. Thanks for post.

    Hey Jeff,
    just so you know, next week I am teaching a workshop on writing for the All About Influence women’s conference  at Dallas Theological Seminary and am referring these amazing aspiring female writers to your website! It is a remarkable resource, real and encouraging.

    Thanks, Lesa

  13. Great post. I’m a singer too. I also went to music school. I did finish, but even though I have that music degree, I’ve stopped practicing. My excellent has also dropped to pretty good. So, technically, I didn’t drop out, but I feel I’ve given up. I’m working on trying to practice my music again, as well as daily working on my writing.

  14. “But I’m grateful, not only that leaving led me to where I belong, but that it taught me how to stay here.” Tamara, this year I’ve really wrestled with letting go of the dream I had been pursuing for years.  That one sentence brought more healing than all of the writing and conversations I’ve had over the last six months. Those words validated what I’ve been trying to say and believe. That sometimes, letting go of a dream, leads us to new dreams and learning the importance of staying here. I know that’s not what your post was about, but that’s what I heard from it! Thanks!

  15. “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.”

    Chilling, and true. As a professional musician, and now a writer, I concur. And that whole thing about not being the Top Cat – no kidding. After 35 years in the music biz, I see that all the time. And now switching to write – whoa. I’m decent, but no comparison to those who have honed their craft for as many years as I was making music. 

    Loved this blogpost, thank you so much.

  16. Tamara! I could have written this post! I did the exact. Same. Thing. I dropped out of music school (and subsequently sacrificed my scholarship) because I couldn’t get past Music Theory, either. As a matter-of-fact, by the time I graduated from college, I had an ambiguous degree in the Fine Arts because I only became a jack of all trades and most certainly a master of not one thing. And the same thing happened to me – I stopped honing my craft(s), the thing(s) I was gifted for, and now have less of them to offer.

    And now there’s writing, which I’ve always done, but have only become more committed to it in the last year. And I only want to become better.

    Thank you for this, Tamara. I needed to hear it.


  17. Thanks for posting this up. It was the opposite for me, I guess. Due to financial, familial, and health problems, I had to drop in and out of engineering and did switch to Biology but did not enjoy it. This is comforting to know. I’m still trying to recover my health and figure out where to go: likely a trade school then go back for engineering degree in the future. This is a really uplifting message. Sorry that I rambled on. You stated what an old friend stated: share your talents with the world and such somehow but I still have no idea what they are. These days, you need a good GPA to get your foot in anywhere as well as a Bachelor’s.

Comments are closed.