This time last year I was in the middle of writing my novel Lord Nelson’s Eye - I still had little idea where my characters would take me and was exhausted with the effort of pushing against the confines of my own limitation. I was just about ready to abandon it all as a lost cause, when my tutor. Linda Lee Welch
told me this story. She’d been to a workshop for professional musicians where they were all asked to bring a piece to perform unrehearsed. Imagine the nervous tension, and how tempting it might be to cheat – after all it’s galling to make a mess of things especially in front of an audience. She told me there was a pianist who was trying so hard but just couldn’t get it together. Play it through badly, the course leader instructed. And so she did, just about, to the end – wildly and with many mistakes. Then the miracle happened - returning to a
piece she’d rehearsed and knew well, she played as she never had before – finding a new sense of freedom and fluency.
I wrote the words Play the Piano Badly on my wall in pink pen, and proceeded to finish the novel this year. The notion of letting go really helped – I could forget for a while the desire to write well and just
let the voices speak through the chaos. It reminded me of a long ago photography lesson, the images rising as if by magic in the darkroom.
In both dance and writing there’s a balance to be found between the demands of improving technique – a lifetime of practise, and the necessity to free the imagination – to breathe life into the work. The skill is
in negotiating the balance. The more technically accomplished and experienced artist should have a greater capacity to let go, but this often isn’t the case. It’s so easy to get caught up in technique for its own sake. Cleverness can be so beguiling.
I question what is my task as a writer? To learn to write as well as possible and be open to criticism, of course – and this is where self determination and stamina is required. But to be open enough to let
something beyond self emerge – something we might name inspiration, or vision – something mysterious that really doesn’t belong to us alone - is an act of trust requiring the courage to make mistakes – to fail. Skilful technique only serves to give greater clarity to form.
It would be a great thing to reach the point where neither success nor failure mattered too greatly – just to get on with the work without distraction.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.