Opera on Writing

Recently I performed a featured role in an opera production of Puccini’s Suor Angelica. I know. What is a book editor doing singing opera? As it turns out, I’ve been singing all of my life, and had a career in musical theater  before I landed in book publishing and writing. But opera? That’s a whole other ball of wax.

After going through this experience, it occurred to me that singing opera was not all that different from writing a book. So here, then, are five lessons learned:

1. Step out of your comfort zone.

Sure I had been singing most of my life. But here I was in the midst of a cast of accomplished, professional opera singers. I felt so out of my league. Could I do this? Yet, if I kept doing the kind of singing I had my whole life, I would never grow as a singer.

Lesson for Writers: Don’t always go for what’s easy. Stretch your wings and try something completely different, no matter how hard it may seem. This will make you succeed as an author.

2. Don’t quit when the going gets tough.

I cannot tell you how many times I contemplated quitting. Why? Because I felt like I was going to fail. I was tripping over my tongue with the Italian, the rhythms felt impossible, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to memorize my lines and miss a cue: a deadly sin in opera.

But I had signed a contract and people were depending on me. Worse, I would have let myself down. So, I dug in my heels, determined to stick it out no matter what.

Lesson for Writers: Recognize that creating is hard work and everyone feels like throwing in the towel once in a while. Just keep at it, and it will get easier.

3. Hire an expert to help navigate the rough spots.

At first I thought I could learn my part on my own. But after weeks of making minimal progress, I hired an opera coach who excelled at helping me break down the Italian, rhythm, and notes and put all these elements  back together. He not only showed me how to approach the music, but  gave me the reassurance I needed to perform with confidence.

Lesson for Writers: Recognize that working with a professional editor will help you improve your writing immeasurably. A good editor will know how to give you specific guidance. (I soon found out that all the professional opera singers work with a coach. It’s not a sign of weakness, but of taking their craft seriously.)

4. Deadlines matter.

I feel certain that if I had not had specific deadlines along the way, I would still be struggling. Having small, reachable deadlines along the way made the going more manageable. There were deadlines for learning the music, being off book, knowing the blocking, culminating in a fully realized performance.

Lesson for Writers: Give yourself a reasonable deadline to complete your novel. But don’t ignore the smaller deadlines along the way that can help you get there: completion of your character journeys, chapters, and various drafts.

5. Return on Investment cannot be measured with dollar signs.

I was lucky enough to be paid for my role. But I spent far more for my coaching! Was it worth it? Without a doubt. The investment I made in helping me do a job that I could be proud of was worth more than I can express. I know the next time I do an opera will be easier. But I also know I will continue to work with a coach.

Will I give up working with authors on their books? No way! I love what I do and I thrive on helping first-time authors reach their full potential. But I also have this need to express my own creativity through singing. I know what whatever investment I make will come back a hundredfold.

Lesson for Writers: Avoid the trap of worrying about how much you are investing in your writing versus how much you stand to earn off your books. You’re not investing dollars to get a product to market, but rather investing in yourself as an author to develop your talents to their fullest potential.



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