What composing has taught me about writing

From the way I’ve behaved in the past few months, nobody would guess that I cared about writing fiction at all. I’ve written little and instead dedicated nearly all my spare time to composing music. After three months of silence, I’m writing in this journal again because I feel that the time is right.

As strange as it may seem, avoiding writing was exactly what I needed. My problem with writing has always been that I care too much about it; nobody needs to criticise me when I write because I do plenty of that to myself.

Composing is a more frivolous pastime. My main goal in music is to have fun making things I like. I have no formal education in music and don’t plan on getting one, so I feel free to disregard all the rules. When I compose, I’m a child in a sandpit.

Once I’d been composing for a few months, I realised that the time I’d thought I’d spent writing had actually been spent on thinking and organising—but not to any practical end. I’d been trying to follow a writing procedure which I thought I already knew from having read hundreds of well-written books, when in fact, I’d never written a novel before. My unwillingness to admit to my ignorance coupled with my desire to make my first novel excellent had killed any hopes of my enjoying writing.

Now, I’ve stopped thinking that I know what to do—or that I should know what to do. I don’t know how to write. I only know how to read stories, not write them. If I want to learn how to write fiction, I’d better start at the beginning and stay started so that I can make progress as a writer.

Because creativity isn’t a procedure; it’s first and foremost a lifestyle. It’s something that needs to be grown into. And the longer I stick to creating, the sooner I’ll get comfortable with the idea of making things, and the better I’ll become at it.

I still want my first novel to be well-written. I don’t want to write a throwaway book. I suppose that’s a natural and reasonable fear. I’m not going to abandon my goal, but I’m going to approach it differently. Instead of trying to construct something immaculate, one literary brick at a time, I’m going to just try to get in the habit of writing while reminding myself that artists aren’t meant to be thinking too hard when they’re making art.

And there’s no need to put pressure on myself to get things right quickly. Leonardo da Vinci said that ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.’ I don’t have to abandon my novel until I’m sure that I want to. There’s no rush; I have all the time in the world to write the story I want to write.

The most important thing I’ve learnt from composing is that composing can’t replace writing for me. Writing is simply that important. I have to learn to write without feeling nervous because my passion for writing isn’t going anywhere.

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