I was one of those kids who had to stay inside to practice the piano, who got to take time off from school for competitions, and took music theory exams on my own time.
Was I always thrilled to be doing this? Nope! But am I glad I did? Absolutely.
It wasn’t until my love-hate relationship with playing instruments settled firmly on “love” that I realized that having studied music for years taught me some valuable life lessons, including ones that can be applied to my writing.
This is what I learned about writing from studying music.
Anyone who has achieved any sort of skill in anything knows that it takes lots and lots of practice to be great. For music, I needed discipline to decline invites from friends when they fell within my practicing hours, to practice even when I just wanted to watch TV, and to not give up when a piece was giving me trouble.
For writing, though, I saw it as something that you need to have discipline to sit down and do, not necessarily to practice. However, just like learning an instrument, you absolutely can and should discipline yourself to practice writing.
If the only time you write is when you need something to publish, you’re doing it wrong.
From copywork to creative writing exercises, there are many beneficial activities to incorporate into your writing practice. Brushing up on the finer points of grammar, studying writing that you admire, dedicating an hour a day to pure practice—try a few of these, and your future writing self will thank you.
We as writers just need the discipline to practice our craft even when it’s not for a deadline, and to keep learning and pushing ourselves to be better.
When I’m working on a difficult passage on an instrument, and I start to get frustrated, I take a break by playing something that I enjoy. This releases my stress, refreshes my mind, and also reinforces the enjoyment that I get from playing music instead of making it a negative experience.
Likewise with writing, if you start to feel blocked or frustrated, you can try any number of writing exercises designed to boost creativity and make writing fun again. If you’re struggling to put your thoughts into words, try taking a quick break to come up with a nonsense poem, describe an object within your sight exactly, or write some amusing banter between two characters who sprung into existence right then.
Another aspect of this is that, just like how I often play music to de-stress when I’m dealing with problems not related to writing, journaling or other forms of creative writing can be an effective way to relieve stress.
Music is intricately linked with life experiences. Lyrics are full of heartbreak, enjoying life, falling in love, nostalgia—all inspired by real-life situations and experiences.
Lived experiences are also important to instrumental music, both for those who write it and those who play it.
When I was in high school, my elderly piano teacher, attempting to get me to play a passage more tenderly and with more emotion, asked me if I had ever been in love. What she managed to get from me in the moment was more flustered and red-faced than tender, but the lesson stuck with me.
From then on, if I needed to get into the mood to play with particular expression, I would draw on my memories of real-life situations that inspired the same emotions that I wanted to convey through the music.
Just like our own lives, experiences, and emotions are sources of inspiration for writing or interpreting music, they can also inspire great writing.
Having lived through the emotions that you want to convey in a novel, short story, or even travel or experience blog makes it easier to inspire that same emotion in your readers. It might be difficult to accurately convey the feeling of heartbreak in a character if you’ve never experienced it yourself, or at least borrowed someone else’s lived experience.
Your own experiences can also be the source of inspiration for new blog posts, articles, e-books—you name it! You could decide to write a post about a great hike you went on, and then get hooked and end up doing a whole series on local hikes, or adding a hiking scene to your next novel. Just like life, the possibilities are nearly endless.
The process of writing music can seem mysterious and spontaneous to those unfamiliar with it. This certainly used to be the case for me, but when I started studying music theory, I learned that it’s a lot more of a science than one might think.
While there is cool experimental music out there, the majority of the music that we listen to can be broken down into common structures and chord patterns. This means that starting to write a song with at least a vague idea of the structure picked out will likely result in a smoother process and a more pleasing final product.
This can also be applied to writing, whether it’s a blog post or a novel. Of course, there are writers who push the limits, but by and large most of the texts we read have a structure that can be predicted based on what genre of text it is. We all drew that mountain-shaped plot outline diagram in high school English.
Having a pre-planned structure won’t stifle your creativity; it will help you deliver a more cohesive, balanced, and well-thought-out piece, with less work. It’s like giving yourself a roadmap—chances are, you’ll get there faster if you use it.
Experiencing discipline within an art form has led me to approach writing as both an art and a discipline, helping to shape me as a writer and be aware of what is needed to keep growing my skill.
If you’ve studied music, how did it impact your writing? Though I work with more words than music notes these days, studying music provided me with a set of valuable, relevant, and lasting lessons that I still draw on every day.
As someone whose childhood was spent having books pried away from her at the dinner table, a future working with words was almost inevitable. Giselle has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Calgary, and has worked as a writer/copyeditor for a newspaper, freelance proofreader/editor/writer, and piano teacher. She splits her time between Mexico City and Calgary, Alberta and always has her eye out for adventure, whether that be backpacking in the Rocky Mountains or picking up a new instrument. Giselle is a content editor for Craft Your Content.