Writing lessons from my saxophone (guest post by Terrie Todd)

At the age of 53, I took up saxophone playing and, surprise-surprise, I gained insights for my writing life as well. #1. Practice pays.                      This may seem obvious, but by the time we’re in our fifties, most of us figure we’ve mastered whatever skills we’re going to master and everything else is status-quo. When I ...

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GRAPHIC frail attemptsAt the age of 53, I took up saxophone playing and, surprise-surprise, I gained insights for my writing life as well.

#1. Practice pays.                     

This may seem obvious, but by the time we’re in our fifties, most of us figure we’ve mastered whatever skills we’re going to master and everything else is status-quo. When I first picked up the saxophone, practice times were torture because I was puffing, sweating, and squawking. But the worst of it was my lips. They just couldn’t hold up through an entire song.

But I’m greedy enough that if I’m going to cough up money for lessons, I’m going to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck—and that means a half hour every day with my sax. Gradually, I noticed I could hit the high and low notes I couldn’t hit before, I wasn’t panting, and my lips didn’t give out. How did that happen? Practice. What was true when we were kids still holds.

Think what might happen if we practiced our writing skills with the same diligence.

#2. Everybody has their unique style.

It took a year for my teacher, Ritchard, and I to notice the uniqueness of our hands. He couldn’t understand why I was having so much trouble “rolling” my thumb from the thumb rest onto the octave key and back, like he does. When I watched him do it, I pointed out that my thumbs don’t curl backwards the way a lot of thumbs do. Mine are the “one-way only” kind, and no amount of practice will change their tree-stumpiness.

“Would you look at that,” Ritchard said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”

It was a relief to know I’m a freak of nature. It provides a great excuse to develop my own way of compensating.

Every writer has their style, strengths, and weaknesses. Ask God to help you develop your own voice and compensate for your unique limitations, and never give up merely because you can’t write like your hero.

#3. A deeper purpose means everything.

I spent the first several weeks playing ditties like Hot Cross Buns and Jingle Bells. I was having fun. But when Ritchard set a book of worship songs on the stand and I heard myself playing the melody of I Love You, Lord, something shifted. Though no one sang along, the familiar words rang in my head and suddenly I was so moved, I could hardly read the page for tears:

“Take joy, my King, in what you hear, may it be a sweet sound in your ear…”

How this can be true I don’t fully understand, but the God of creation was hearing my frail yet heartfelt attempts and taking joy in them.

As Christian writers, we have the priceless honor of worshipping God with our words and bringing him joy. Let that truth flood your heart as you write for him today.


TerrieTodd-2Terrie Todd writes from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada where she lives with her hubby, Jon, and is a part-time administrative assistant at City Hall. An eclectic writer, Terrie is a published playwright, an eight-time contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, a weekly faith and humor columnist for the Central Plains Herald Leader, and a two-time finalist in the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest. Her first novel, The Silver Suitcase, will be released by Waterfall Press in January, 2016. She is represented by Jessica Kirkland of the Blythe Daniel Literary Agency. Terrie and Jon have three adult children, three grandsons, and another grandson arriving this fall! You can catch up with her latest shenanigans at www.terrietodd.blogspot.com.

Color studies

An artist doesn’t magically know just how to mix paints to achieve the perfect shade or effect. Sure, over time, color mixing gets to be natural, but that’s not necessarily true at the very beginning. If you’re not careful and you add the wrong color, you’ll end up with something closely resembling mud, not the ...

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160329880An artist doesn’t magically know just how to mix paints to achieve the perfect shade or effect. Sure, over time, color mixing gets to be natural, but that’s not necessarily true at the very beginning. If you’re not careful and you add the wrong color, you’ll end up with something closely resembling mud, not the clear, vibrant color you’re wanting. That’s why many people will experiment, especially when working with a new medium (watercolors, oils, pastels) — creating little charts to see the results of mixing this blue with that yellow, and so forth.

Do you remember that passage in Matthew in which Jesus goes off to pray? That morning in the Garden of Gethsemane, His disciples were busy, too — sleeping. Jesus was angry. See, I think God expects us to bring a little something to the table. We can do all things through Him. But in order for that to happen, there’s a certain amount of “doing” required. We have to know Him and know how to get to Him.

I have friends who became Christians and then burrowed inward. They talk about it in reverent tones: I’m in a time of preparation. God is strengthening me. Instead of going out and doing, they stay in and study. They associate only with other strong Christians. They read, they pray, and they spend hours contemplating their navels — I mean, the state of their souls.

None of these things are bad. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they’re all good. We need to spend time learning about God if we want to be able to effectively serve and accurately represent Him.

But if the goal of an artist is to communicate, the goal of the Christian is to do the same. And to communicate, you have to be out there with the people you want to reach. No artist ever became great by cranking out an endless supply of color charts. You should absolutely learn the basics and then continue to delve deeper and deeper in your studies. But remember, color charts don’t speak to people. They don’t inspire. They don’t provoke emotion and solve problems. They’re just tools. Exercises which contribute to a bigger picture. They are practice before you tackle the real work before you.

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