The Writer and the Stage

I'll never be Lady Gaga.
When not writing novels, blogging, or keeping house, most of you know that I moonlight as a musician. This has given me a fair amount of experience with getting up in front of people. I've performed solo, with my sisters, in worship teams and church choirs, with a Gregorian chant schola and with a barbershop chorus. Sometimes I've sung my own music; sometimes other people's. I've given public performances where the crowd expected me to deliver on the promise of entertainment, and I've stood on the platform for church liturgies and services where the musician's goal is to disappear and leave the prayer standing, whole and on its own.

Not that I've ever been brilliant at it. My soft little half-trained voice and quiet guitar and not-very-showy personality are rather more suited to the corner of a coffee shop than center stage. But I know the stage, and I have the awkward love-and-fear relationship with it that anyone might. Anyone, at least, who has artistic impulses and the tendency to succumb to violent tremors when nervous.

Stage fright is such a primal thing. I can't reason it away any more than in my outdoorsy days I could convince myself, harnessed and anchored, to leap off a platform forty feet in the air. There's not much risk to swinging by doubled-up ropes from aircraft-carrier cable bolted into trees. My mind knew that; my body believed otherwise. When it comes to the performing arts, my body consistently rebels against my mind's calming words.

But the stage isn't entirely a world of horrors. If it was, I'd not have returned to it, either by seeking it or having it asked of me.

As a writer, whether of song or prose, creation is usually complete only in sharing of the finished work. Hard as it has always been to pull out the guitar and tell my family "I wrote a new song" (even when I know they'd appreciate it), I've done it. My fingers always shake on the strings. But the performance—that act of sharing what has been written—is always an important ritual. It's an acknowledgment that what I've created does not belong to me alone. That it must be given.

It has always been the hardest gift for me to give.

Much as we may dream of fame and fortune, few humans take comfort in platforms that raise us over the heads of others, that put bright lights on us and ask us to pour out what our hearts hold. We novelists may think we're exempt from that necessity—I sometimes catch myself cheerfully picturing a hidden, literary life—but with authors reputedly having to do more and more of their own marketing, I doubt most of us can get away with the reclusive ideal.

Not that I'm worrying about book tours and the like, not yet. I've got to sell the novel first, and should such things happen, at least the performance aspect won't be a new experience. The stage meets me in other ways, though—less immediate, less oh-heavens-maybe-I-should-start-taking-beta-blockers panic-inducing, but nonetheless real and challenging.

For instance, having my story critiqued. Or trying to write a minimum of four blog-posts a week, all of which need to be well-written, reasonably interesting, and not overly likely to cause me shame. Then there are the query and submission processes, in which everyone gets rejected sometimes.

I keep thinking all of this will get easier with practice. Over the last few months, I've had numerous encounters with the stage in the form of solo vocals. I've been out of my wits every time. If anything, the stage fright has gotten worse.

Why didn't I pick life goals that could be lived out behind the scenes? Why choose the writer's world of performing and publishing, which puts me constantly at war with my own fears and pride? I'm already the nailbiting sort—why make monsters of my insecurities?

In some ways, it was never a choice. Like many writers, I don't remember a life without writing and can't imagine one. In other ways, it's a choice every time I say yes to a request for music or hit send on an email containing a manuscript. Sometimes I say yes only because I couldn't live with myself if I started saying no out of fear.

There may be better answers to these questions, but I don't know them. For now, there's only another deep breath, another step up onto the stage, and a constant prayer for the strength to sing.


  1. Lovely :). I'm not a writer, but I can identify in so many ways. Just lovely!

  2. This is my life. Thanks for putting it into words. :)

  3. Thanks, both of you! Farmer's City Wife, I wouldn't say you're not a writer when you blog so well... but I know you have other, stronger ways of identifying. Carrie, you're welcome--you sing and write so beautifully, but I'm not surprised you can sympathize. :)

  4. Jenna, absolutely wonderful post. I was actually thinking something so similar today -- it's nice to hear someone from farther along on the road. :-)

  5. Thanks, Kiernan! It's a good road to be on. :)


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