I had an interesting discussion with a coworker this morning about classically trained musicians versus musicians who improvise. As an improvisational musician, he told me how astonished he was at how uncomfortable his classically trained friends were with playing music on the fly. As a fellow classically trained musician (I played piano for about fifteen years) I could relate–if someone gave me a drum beat and asked me to make up a tune, I’d be petrified.

Later, when visiting my usual writing blogger sites, I ran across Eliza Green’s newest post about what happens when writers feel too boxed in while plotting out their novels. And I realized I was reading about the same issue I’d discussed my coworker. Writers, like musicians, grapple with the dangers of improvisation. How to let creativity flow while keeping stories successfully structured.

But if worrying about your plot structure starts to sap your creativity, I say stop. Plotting, per my last post on this subject, is about parameters and benchmarks. Nothing more. Let your plot grow in unexpected ways, and don’t reign yourself in too much. Only use those parameters when you need them.

Here’s why. The classical music world can be a very tense business. My experience was all written tests, theory, and sight reading exercises. This is why I quit playing the piano–there was no heart, no soul, no feeling in the music. It was all practice, practice, practice.

But it doesn’t have to be the same way with writing (though practice is indeed important). We should let ourselves have fun, put our hearts and souls into the words and sentences we compose. Where would Mozart have been if he hadn’t done that with his music?

So write. Play. Revel in unexpected feelings, places, and experiences, and only use parameters when absolutely necessary. I leave you with the very question I’d wish I’d been asked about my music: How does your writing make you feel?

0 replies
  1. Eliza Green
    Eliza Green says:

    Glad I could inspire you today!

    I think back to a favourite film of mine 'Sunshine of A Spotless Mind.' Kate Winslet said that at the time of filming, she was frustrated by the fractious scenes(the director wasn't following any particular order). She said she was close to quitting the film until she saw the scenes in sequence.

    What I'm trying to say is that even the craziest visionaries keep some kind of structure in mind. Be as crazy as you want in the story, but in the end, readers will demand realism, order and believable characters from you.

    Music can be as different and creative as you like, but every song has a beat that listeners can tap along to. As writers, we must always consider our end users.


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