In my previous life, I sang opera. I went to university for music, got two degrees specializing in voice performance, sang in recitals, concerts and operas across Canada, parts of the U.S., Europe and the UK. During my time as a musician, I developed tools and ways of approaching my craft that not only kept me sane, but kept me moving forward.
Recently, as I’ve begun to take my writing more seriously, I have found that many of those tools are lending themselves to improving myself as a writer.6 Ways Being an Opera Singer Has Made Me A Better Writer Click To Tweet
1. Rejection is nothing personal.
In opera, you learn not to take rejection personally. You may audition for a role with a company and be perfect in every way, musically. But they have already cast the other lead, and your heights are not complementary. And guess what? Three other singers sounded as good as you, and two of them were the right height. So you pick yourself up, and audition with those incredible arias somewhere else.
I know it feels personal. You poured your lifeblood into that story you submitted, after all. You fit the bill, you know your story was good, but they still didn’t accept it. Well, there were actually 32 other people who experienced something similar and wrote about it. That doesn’t mean your story wasn’t engaging, or your writing wasn’t good enough. It means someone else’s story was a better fit.
2. The people who engage in your work want you to succeed.
When it comes to singing, it can be pretty scary to put yourself out there, because you face your fears with an audience, front and center. It can be hard to silence the inner critic that you end up projecting onto your audience. Once you realize that the reason they’re there is to listen to and appreciate you, though, the experience is more gratifying.'Here's a little secret: there's no reason to be afraid of submitting your work.' Click To Tweet
Why? Because even those scary editors, whose judgement you fear so much, want to stumble upon the Next Big Thing. So stop sitting on that story and editing it for the 68th time, and hit send! If you get a ‘No’, take a look at point #3.
3. Embrace failure.
When opera singers get a rejection letter, we call it the PFO – Please F*ck Off. It’s just another notch in the belt, really. As a student, you audition for 5, 7, or even more apprenticeship programs, in the hopes that you will land just one. ONE. And as a professional, you learn to look at the audition process as part of your learning experience as a singer. How did I perform this time, compared to last time? The submission/audition process has to become another avenue to hone your craft, otherwise you can go crazy with all the rejections you get.
So you submitted a piece close to your heart, and got a big fat No. There’s something to be learned from each and every rejection. What’s going to be your take away this time? Read your story again, and if you’re not sure why you got a No, then work up your courage and contact the editor to ask for feedback. Most will happily offer some reasons as to why you didn’t make the cut. Now, go back to your story and read it through the eyes of that editor, and see what can be done to improve your writing.
4. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Opera singers practice when they’re tired. They practice when they’re feeling a bit under the weather. They practice the day they had a fight with their ex. Why? Because that’s the only way to get better. Showing up is half the battle, when you’re not in the mood to practice, and the days when you feel the least inspired can be the days when you get the most accomplished.
I write pretty much every day of the week. Sometimes, what I write is godawful. Sometimes, the words flow out, filled with inspiration. If I waited until that inspiration hit every single time, I wouldn’t be published in half the places I have been already. That’s because even when I pour out a page of sucky writing, there can be a single kernel of fantastic insight hiding in there. Then I can spend time honing it into a real story worth submitting somewhere. If I had listened to myself and avoided writing that day, who knows if I’d have ever happened upon that kernel.
5. Cultivate community with your colleagues.
This was something I was never good at, as a singer, and I think I really paid the price. I isolated myself, which only intensified the me vs. them mentality that can develop. I lost out on many opportunities of camaraderie, networking and learning by keeping other singers at arm’s length. If you walk around thinking that there isn’t enough room for everyone in your field and view them all as competition, you’re only hurting yourself, in the long run.
Truth be told, it can be scary to try to connect with the people you view as competition. Why share secrets? Why boost each others’ reach? Why share their work with your readers? Because there’s enough space for everyone, on the playing field. And when you are generous with your colleagues, they are generous with you. You will learn from one another. And instead of the competition, they become your friends, and you begin to root for each other.
6. Ignore the critics.
This last point doesn’t need to be broken down beyond this: your creation, be it a performance, a recording or a piece of writing, is going to provoke people. That’s what art does. If your creation elicited a strong reaction, whether positive or negative, you win! Because that means someone cared enough to respond. So stop reading the comments, and get back to creating.