Friday, January 18, 2013

Creative Resolutions... by Kate McMurray

Six or so years ago, right around the holidays, a friend of mine dragged me to a concert of a community orchestra in Greenwich Village. She knew one of the cellists and remembered that I had played violin once upon a time. The music was kind of obscure and a little boring, but the violin soloist was spectacular, and I found myself sitting there in the audience with a palpable longing to play music again. Thus a New Year’s Resolution was born. I would become a violinist! I would audition for an orchestra! I would impress my friends with my musical skill!

Full of swagger, I took to the Internet and discovered that my neighborhood had a community orchestra that operated out of a music school a mere ten-minute walk from my apartment, and lo, they were having auditions soon. It took some effort to push aside the PTSD flashbacks of auditions past, but I walked into this one with a reasonable amount of confidence. It turned out to be one of the best auditions I have ever done. It was not, however, good enough to get me into the community orchestra. (That’s the problem with New York. That audition was probably good enough to get me into an orchestra almost anywhere else, but in NYC, there is a surplus of extraordinarily talented people that I had to compete with.)

The orchestra director thought I just needed some polish, so I should take a semester of lessons and audition again. Conveniently, I was already in a music school. So I signed up, thinking I was just honing my skills so that I could sit at the back of an orchestra. What actually happened was that I was being groomed play solos, something I was deeply uncomfortable with. I’d liked playing in orchestras, where you had other people backing you up, where you could blend into a crowd. When you play a solo, everyone stares at you. A few friends came to my first recital, and one of them recorded me with her phone, and there I am in the video, all deer-in-headlights on a stage with a spotlight in my face, freaking right the hell out. (Well, okay, I managed to keep the freaking out mostly internal, and you can’t really tell in the video that I’m about to have a heart attack, and actually it sounds pretty good, but at the time, to me, the sounds coming from my violin were mostly dying cat and not Bach cantata.) The second recital was better, although I did make a substantial mistake in the middle of the piece I was playing. My mother, who came to that recital, very sweetly told me afterward that she hadn’t noticed.

I think it’s good to push oneself. It’s good for our souls to try something new or do something outside of our comfort zone. Life would be pretty boring if we didn’t.

I mean, it’s easy enough to resolve to lose weight every January and join a gym and let the membership card languish at the bottom of your handbag (not that I’ve done that *whistles*) and, yeah, putting yourself out there is hard. But once you start climbing out of the box and trying new things, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.

This applies to writing, too. As someone who likes a challenge, I always want to try something totally new with each book I write. Maybe that’s tossing in a trope I’ve never written before or trying a new genre. I find that the more I write, the more I want to tell different kinds of stories. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you I was going to stick to contemporaries, and yet, I just put out a paranormal/fantasy novel. (Er, sort of. It’s grounded in contemporary New York, but lots of weird things happen. I mean, there’s a chase scene with an evil shapeshifter. And here some of you thought I only wrote about baseball!) Writing it was an interesting exercise, playing around with some ideas I like in other fantasy (immortality, past lives, Celtic mythology) but had never really dealt with before in my own writing. I hope to keep trying new things moving forward. I mean, I love contemporaries and have a couple of those in the works, but I want to finish a historical novel soon. I’ve always had a thing for psychics. I have this completely insane idea for a near-future dystopia.

I think the key to moving forward is to keep challenging ourselves to do new things, creative and otherwise, and to never get stuck in a rut, because monotony is where madness lies. (For me, anyway. I get so easily bored.) Stepping out of one’s comfort zone can be immensely rewarding, if only so you can look back and say, “Hey, I played a violin concerto by myself in front of fifty people” or “Hey, I wrote a paranormal romance” or “Hey, I went to a convention” or what have you. So for me, starting over in the new year is all about figuring out how to challenge myself next.

Kate McMurray is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. Her latest novel, Show and Tell, is about two men who may or may not be reincarnated Celtic gods. It’s set in an antique shop that is the basis of a reality show about people’s junk because those are so hot right now. When she’s not writing, Kate knits and chases her cat around her apartment and, yes, plays the violin reasonably well. You can find her on the Internet at

1 comment:

  1. This struck a chord (NOT a pun :)) because I always want to try something new, when many people tell me to stick with the familiar. They have a point on some levels, but I don't think that can stop my itch to move on! Good luck with the book, it sounds great :)