Writing Is a Performance, and the Show Must Go On

No matter what, you must find a way forward. Always.

Even if you’d rather go to the dentist every day for the rest of your life than listen to even three minutes of electric violin music, it’s hard to deny that Lindsey Stirling’s rise to stardom is one of the most inspirational modern success stories a creator can draw positive energy from.

I’ll admit, I’m a long-time fan and probably one hundred percent biased here. But you can’t watch Lindsey’s America’s final Got Talent performance, listen to the judges pretty much tell her she doesn’t belong on stage, and look at how far she has come thinking, “Eh. So what?”

I could write an entire series of posts on what writers can learn from her story. But for now I want to talk about Lindsey Stirling as a performer — particularly, why she didn’t quit her national tour after finding out her dad wasn’t going to survive his cancer diagnosis.

There is a time for laying down and feeling your feelings. And then there is a time for packaging those feelings up, strapping them to your back, and continuing on no matter how much you don’t want to.

There’s you, the human. And then there’s you, the performer. And sometimes when you’re performing, you have to leave you, and all your baggage, backstage.

Lindsey’s Brave Enough short film documents her 2017 tour across the States. But it’s unlike any tour documentary I’ve ever seen. During the tour, she is actively grieving two losses: Her best friend, who had recently passed away from cancer, and her dad, who is about to. Give this girl a hug!

There’s a major contrast between the vibrant onstage performances and the quiet moments backstage. During one particular moment, we witness the direct aftermath of Lindsey getting the phone call that cast a shadow across her life forever.

(Sorry — the video is not free if you’re not a YouTube Premium subscriber — but it’s worth paying for, in my opinion, if you aren’t. Again … biased).

She’s completely vulnerable in these moments, letting herself break down even though the cameras are on. Can you blame her? At this point, no one would have held it against her if she’d just said “I’m done” and flew back home to be with her family.

But nope. She lifts her head with tears in her eyes and says, “What time is the meet and greet?”

You see the transformation — Lindsey, the understandably heartbroken human with the weight of the whole world holding her down; Lindsey, the performer with a job to do. One that can’t afford to drag that weight along, because the job just so happens to require dancing while playing the violin. At the same time. Because of course it does.

When you’re a performer, you have to know when it’s time to be “on” and when it’s OK to switch off. Because there will be moments when the circumstances surrounding you say, “Don’t go out there and do your best,” but you have to go out there and do your best anyway.

Yes. Even as a writer who does their work in complete solitude.

For as long as I’ve been writing — OK, it hasn’t been THAT long but still — I’ve never thought about the fact that even though no one is actually watching you write, when you are writing, you are performing. You’re not on a stage or in front of a microphone or on camera, but you’re still expected to be at your best and give your all.

Your performance just happens to occur while you’re sitting in front of your laptop, maybe with headphones on, willing yourself to do the absolute best you can even though — technically — no one will notice if you make a mistake or delete a sentence and rewrite it or sob through your entire writing session.

It’s not that you aren’t allowed to take your time or make mistakes when you’re actively writing. Worrying about doing everything perfectly the first time can not only slow you down but make it extremely difficult for you to finish what you start, and if you’ve ever struggled with trying to finish a writing project that just isn’t getting done, you know how frustrating this can be.

When I compare writing to a performance, I’m more talking about attitude and mindset. You’re (I’m assuming) not a world-famous violinist who has to go out in front of thousands of people and give a near perfect performance even though you just found out your dad is dying. But sometimes you do have to take your frustration and stress and uncertainty and grief and set it aside so that you can focus on doing the best work you can manage.

You can also, in some cases, use your negative emotions to fuel your writing — I weirdly love writing sad scenes when I’m already sad. But it’s really up to you whether you want to bring your emotions to your writing sessions or not. It might depend on the specific circumstances. Be mindful.

I’m not always the best example of a writer who can easily achieve what they call “compartmentalizing.” When I get upset, I get UPSET. I can’t focus, I don’t want to focus, I kind of just want to pace around my basement embracing my thought spirals and then dance out my frustrations until I’m too tired to write.

But even when I’m just writing for myself, I do the absolute best I can to leave my bad feelings in the shadows and get my work done anyway. For me, everything is better when I hit my word count minimums. I’m in a better mood. I feel stronger and more in control. And that makes returning to the feelings I’ve left in the shadows, once the writing is done, much more manageable.

No matter what, you must find a way forward. Always.

It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go, how much progress you do or don’t make, how many attempts result in victory or defeat. What matters is that you are doing whatever it takes to produce the best work you possibly can, even if it’s work no one else is going to see yet.

Why? Because when we feel like we’re doing our best work, we just feel BETTER. And we’re reminded that even though there’s a lot going on and we’re stressed about it and everything seems like it’s falling apart, look. Look what we managed to accomplish anyway. We did good. We’re doing good. We’re going to be OK.

It’s all going to be OK.

When you can, treat your writing time like a performance. Vow to do the best you can no matter how hard it is to focus or how much you’d rather keep your head on your pillow and your tears flowing freely. There’s going to be time for that. There has to be.

But for now, lift your head. Be you, the writer. Let yourself feel. But turn that feeling, in all its raw and real existence, into something your audience — whether it exists yet or not — will never forget.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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