If you had told me a year ago that I would be able to play the piano this well—and that all it would take was focus, time, and what you might call “applied problem solving”—I would have said TELL ME HOW AND I WILL DO IT.
And then I told myself how, day after day.
Really, L and I told ourselves together; we compared notes (pun intended [pun always intended]) and borrowed ideas from each other and rejected the ideas that didn’t work and iterated the ideas that did.
And then, this morning, I played this:
I was able to play the Chopin this well today because I already knew I could do it.
Because I’d played it that well yesterday.
I played the Chopin that well yesterday because my family came to visit over Labor Day weekend and asked me to play Chopin and I whiffed one of the ornaments because I was nervous about not knowing it well enough.
And the next morning I told myself “okay, Nicole, you’ve been telling yourself that you are going to play a for-real piano recital on your 40th birthday, which means you need to iterate the process of giving a recital.”
So I started at the beginning of my program, played as if performing until I made an error, worked the error, and started over again.
That got me what you just heard.
It also got me this:
I’m not satisfied with some of the interpretation choices I made in this performance of Les Cinq Doigts (the Largo movement is way too fast, for example) but I am nearly satisfied with its technical precision and emotional resonance. (There are two tiny finger-wobbles in the piece that need to be eliminated; my guess is that they won’t appear during the next run, and if if they do, I’ll work them until they’re steady.)
And tomorrow I get to start the program again, and make new choices—because the thing about creating art, as Tara K. Shepersky recently reminded us, is that you can never do it exactly the same way twice.
Otherwise, it isn’t creation anymore.
Now I need to tell you about the book.
I have been steadily drafting, and just as steadily reading the draft to L.
He has said—and I agree with him—that these are some of the best ideas I’ve had, and that the writing itself can and should be reworked to make those ideas stronger.
This is a little discombobulating, because I am used to my ideas and my mechanics being fairly integrated. If I have something I want to communicate to a reader, I generally know how to find the right words with which to communicate it.
(I mean, it is literally my job.)
But L is right. The ideas in this last third of the novel, by which I mean the big old mush of plot-character-conflict-theme-setting, are the best I’ve ever had, I am getting better at all the pageturny plotbuildy novel stuff that I wanted to improve upon after writing The Biographies of Ordinary People, and the writing itself hasn’t caught up yet.
This might be because L and I are comparing my draft against the best examples of the genre. I could probably go over to Amazon and hit “self publish NOW” and send you the novel as it stands and you would say “Thanks, that was a fun read! Maybe not one of the best books I’ve ever read, but there was a lot of good stuff in there!”
I want it to be all good stuff.
And, maybe, one of the best books you've ever read.
Follow me on this tangent for a minute—L and I have set ourselves this project in which we pick a favorite author and read every book they’ve published in order, and we’re noticing that there appears to be this skills jump that happens when, I don’t know, the author decides to take their writing more seriously?
That’s probably not true. Writers generally take their writing very seriously all of the time.
Maybe it’s when they finally have the capacity to make their books as excellent/specific/magical as possible, whether that’s a time thing or a money thing or a career thing or a mindset thing.
Maybe it’s when they finally understand how to solve the problems that they previously ignored because their writing was “good enough.”
(Writers, if you want to weigh in on this, I am very interested in hearing your perspectives.)
In many ways I feel like I felt at the piano, a year ago. I don’t know how to do what I want to do yet, and it’s frustrating not because I don’t believe I can do it, but because I can’t yet comprehend the actions that will help me do what I want to do.
This is where a lot of people say “maybe this is as good as I get.”
That’s what I thought, as a pianist, until just last year.
I’m also back to “not knowing what I need to do to get better at chess,” and this is frustrating because two weeks ago I had this breakthrough that helped me become much better very quickly, and I played a three-hour game of chess with L in which it was obvious how much I had improved, and now it feels like I haven’t made any significant improvement since.
I don’t even know why I used the word “feels,” because this isn’t an emotional thing. I can look at the numbers, on Chess.com. 20 to 25 green moves in a row and then I make an error, game after game after game.
So I’ve gone back to the daily chess lessons, partially in the hopes that I will be able to use those lessons to learn more about middlegame and endgame patterns—and partially because I don’t really know what else to do right now, and I’m buying time until I figure it out.
I also want to give you one freelancing recommendation before I share where I got published this week, and it’s this:
If you are looking for high-quality sources for your freelance articles, sign up for Qwoted. I had been a HARO fan for years, but the signal-to-noise ratio on HARO has gotten considerably worse over the past year (not to mention that some of the people who respond to your HARO queries, like, aren’t even real [search “HARO fake personas” if you want to know more about this]).
Qwoted experts are vetted—in fact, they’ll even vet you as a journalist/freelancer before they let you sign up. That way, anyone who signs up for Qwoted as a source knows that their insights will be shared by a reputable writer working for reputable publications, and anyone who signs up for Qwoted as a writer knows that they’re only going to be connected to reputable sources.
That’s a win-win. ❤️
Where I got published this week
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Don’t Write Alone | Catapult
We post roundups of writing and literary jobs once a week. Here’s our list for September 10, 2021.
We post submission roundups once a week. Here’s our list of literary magazines and freelance opportunities for September 10, 2021.