Why Do Problems You Think You've Solved Come Back?

Plus, the best financial advice I have to offer.

We’re going to start, as usual, with a bit of piano:

What’s interesting about this video is that I was pretty sure I had this particular technical problem solved. You’ve heard me play it before, after all—in fact, you hear me play it pretty darn well at the beginning of the video—but today it fell apart when I repeated the exposition.

So I worked it, got it to a point where it didn’t feel like a problem anymore, worked a few other issues in the piece, and started the sonata again.

The exact same problem, in the exact same place.


At first, I thought that maybe I took the repeat faster than I started the piece—the increase in tempo prompting the decrease in form, as it were.

But the tempo on the repeat is exactly the same as the tempo at the start of the piece. So is the tempo I use on the section in question; I didn’t suddenly speed up or anything like that. (You can check it yourself, by starting the video at 0:30 and 2:40.)

The only thing I can think of is that I’m still not-not-not-not-quite-sure yet. The part that falls apart during the repeat isn’t perfectly aligned the first time, after all; it’s good enough to pass, but the right and left hands are just the tiniest bit out of sync.

So I need to keep working.

Because feeling like you’ve solved a problem after playing a few measures over and over until they are error-free doesn’t actually mean you’ve solved the problem.

You need to be able to play them error-free within the larger context of the piece, consistently, both during the exposition (when your brain and choices are fresh) and the repeat of the exposition (when your brain has the double challenge of not losing focus while trying to make fresh choices).

I’ve gotten to that point with Chopin and Stravinsky, and now I need to get there with Mozart.

The interesting thing about all of this is how interesting it all is. You’d think that running an identical practice session every morning would get dull—scales and arpeggios in every major and minor key, then the Chopin Nocturne, then the Stravinsky Five Finger suite, then the first movement of the Mozart, then the second, then the third.

Each individual unit is structured in the same iterative way; play until you make a mistake, stop, work the mistake, and start the whole thing over.

The part that makes it interesting—thank goodness—is the part where I try to make as many new, true, fully-integrated choices as possible every time I run the piece.

By “fully-integrated” I mean “within the world that the composer has created.” There’s a range of tempi you can use on the Chopin Nocturne, for example, but there’s also a point at which it becomes too slow and a point at which it becomes too fast. There’s a point at which the staccatos in the second movement of the Mozart become too sharp for a piece that has been designated adagio. That kind of thing.

With that in mind, here are the choices I made with Chopin this morning:

It’s as technically and emotionally specific as last week’s recording, but it’s completely different—and at the same time it’s not different, it’s still recognizably Chopin, it still maintains the integrity of the composition, it’s not like I’m putting a “LOOK AT ME” filter over the whole thing.

It’s supposed to be Chopin, after all.

I’m just the instrument. ❤️

The novel draft is ALMOST DONE

I have maybe 1,000 words left to write on the novel, and I’ll need a two-hour chunk of uninterrupted time to get them done. The 600-words-an-hour estimate has proved fairly accurate, though I’ve found it difficult to work on the novel when I only have an hour to work; you feel the clock ticking, and your choices become rushed.

With freelancing, I can get a lot more done during a single hour—I can get a lot done during 15 minutes, honestly—but that’s because the structure is different. With freelancing, I’m dealing with subheds and discrete ideas that can be dispatched in 300-word chunks, not a multilayered narrative that extends itself over a 60,000-word text.

This is also why this new novel has taken so much more work—literally—than The Biographies of Ordinary People, which was three times as long. I structured Biographies as a series of very short vignettes, each which could be dispatched in an hour or two of writing and 5-10 minutes of reading. (This was partially because I had trained myself to write that way, and partially because I knew many readers had trained themselves to read that way.)

Now I’m writing a MYSTERY NOVEL, with a PLOT (and SUBPLOTS) and the moment-to-moment writing takes a lot more brainpower because there are a lot of puzzle pieces in the air or balls on the table or however you want to mix your metaphors.


The draft should be finished next week, probably on Monday, and then I am going to take myself through Maggie Stiefvater’s online writing seminar (half price through September 25, work at your own pace, this is not an affiliate link, I’ve taken other Maggie Stiefvater classes and they’ve all been excellent) and then I am going to START REVISING.

Also, L and I are going out to dinner next week to celebrate the draft being done. ❤️

Freelancers—here is the best financial advice I have to offer

I am very excited to share the newest piece I wrote for Catapult: Financial Advice for the Freelancer. It’s a freelancing/finance FAQ, which I hope will answer a bunch of your questions about taxes, CPAs, LLCs, and so on.

Here’s an excerpt, focusing on earnings (everyone’s favorite part of freelancing):

How much can I expect to earn as a freelancer?

When I teach intro-to-freelancing classes, I tell my students that they can expect to earn between $50 and $150 per piece as an entry-level freelancer; between $150 and $350 per piece as a midlevel freelancer; and between $350 and $800 per piece as they continue to build their reputation and their client base.

If you want to know how much you can expect to earn at any stage in your freelance career, multiply the per-piece rate by the number of pieces you can realistically expect to pitch and complete in a month. Right now, for example, I generally complete fifteen articles each month. Each article is roughly 1,200 to 1,800 words, and my pay rate averages at around fifty cents a word. This means that I can expect to earn $750 per piece on average and around $11,000 per month (pretax).

Go read the whole thing—and then read the list of everywhere else I got published this week. ❤️

Where I got published this week


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