Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Music Lessons for Writers

My husband has a great voice and he loves to sing. Loves it. He's performed in an auditioned community choir called Jubilate since our triplets were age 2. And, yes, I'd appreciate a drum-roll for me — for the essential backup job of looking after three high-maintenance toddlers (now teenagers), alone, one night a week!  

Eric's choir sings mostly classical work but they also do some contemporary pieces, a bit of jazz and even the odd gospel tune. They're a great choir but they've had a few problems lately. The biggest? A shortage of tenors. Yup, say that in a high-pitched voice. Eric is a bass, along with about six others. They also have a surfeit of sopranos and an abundance of altos. But tenor attendance has been, well, troubling. This year the number has bottomed off to two.  

As you can imagine, harmony doesn't work so well when one set of voices is missing. So, the group hired a consultant for some advice on what to do.  

On the consultant's recommendation, Eric and three of his choir members then dressed up in their tuxedoes at 7 am one morning last week and stood on a busy bridge displaying bright yellow signs that said: "Free, the tenors." You see, the group waives its $250 yearly enrollment fee for any tenors. But they'd never done a good job of publicizing the fact.  

Oh, and they alerted the media. This was a particularly great idea because the choir president got cold feet about the whole deal the night before and phoned to cancel the stunt. "It's too much trouble for an uncertain result," he said. An hour later he called back to say the event was back on because press releases had already gone out.  

And, in fact, the local drive-to-work radio show interviewed them from the bridge at 7:20 am. Then the metropolitan daily newspaper showed up and, the next morning, placed their photo on the front page. Oh, and a national current affairs program interviewed them too, and even played one of their recorded pieces.  

During interviews, the choir president speculated wildly about the worldwide decline of tenor voices, due to I can't remember what. He may have been right, but didn't really present a compelling argument. Still the media didn't care. Guys on a bridge in tuxedos are just too interesting.  

The publicity was an overwhelming success. The choir now has about 15 tenors lined up to audition. Bravo, you may say, but I believe this little good news story also offers three key pieces of advice for writers.  

1) Don't back down: When the choir president wanted to bail out he demonstrated the nervousness that typically faces anyone doing something a little bit troublesome. After the event, he remarked: "Sometimes you have to do things that just don't seem sensible." Remember that as a writer. No matter how low your apparent level of success, resolve to keep on writing and clear the time in your schedule for it. Do it early in the morning, at lunchtime or late at night if you need it. Commit to it.  

2) Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story: A worldwide shortage of tenors? That was so not the point. But it made a good hook. When you're telling your stories you also need a hook. Find something to grab the attention of your readers. Then make the point you want to make.  

3) Be brave: Standing on a bridge in a tuxedo on a cold morning wasn't easy. But it worked. Steel your resolve to do whatever it takes to produce words readers will want to consume. For writers who suffer from block one of my recommendations is that you turn off your computer monitor while writing. Sounds crazy, I know. But this will prevent you from editing while you try to write. Do whatever it takes to get that first draft out as quickly as possible.  

As a writer you can hit the right note if you are determined to do it. Believe in yourself.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday August 4th 2009, 5:14 PM
Comment by: Patrick D. (South Hempstead, NY)
This is the third article by Daphne that I have read in this sitting. Thank you for your plain spoken, practical advice. I'm inspired to write!

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