This weekend, I picked up the guitar, something I wasn’t sure I’d do again for a long time yet. If you had told me back in college, when I was strumming away almost hourly, that I would have dropped the guitar in my late twenties, I would have scoffed at you.

Perhaps I would have even played you a ditty about it. I was fond of ditties.

But over time, life and other hobbies sort of got in the way, especially once I decided I didn’t want to do the singer/songwriter thing on the count of, you know, not being that terrific at either. I don’t really look at this as giving up, but more as prioritization. You can only keep so many guitar-shaped balls in the air at a time, after all.

However, once Talia was born, I knew I’d get back into the git-fiddle. It was just a question of when. So this weekend, I played for her. Watching the amazement in her eyes as music flowed from this mysterious object beneath her father’s hands now stands as one of my favorite memories. And while I’m not nearly the maestro I used to be (or considered myself to be, which are entirely different things), it was satisfying how easily much of the movements came back to me, the way my hands fluttered over frets and picked at too-old strings.

Oddly enough, the experience actually taught me something about the way I approach writing. You see, for some reason, I have no qualms about jamming on a guitar. I’ll play whatever comes into my head at the moment, try a different chord as it strikes me or see if I can make up a few of my own. I mess around with rhythm, melody and sing whatever words pop into my head, even if they don’t make sense. And sometimes especially then.

I hate the word jam in this context, but that’s what I do with a guitar. It’s only for me (and now, my daughter) and I don’t care how out of tune it sounds, how trite the progressions or cliche the melodies are. I just know that all that messing around will eventually lead to something that I truly love, something that sticks out. But until then, I jam away.

What’s interesting to me is that I don’t approach the written word in the same way at all. With music, if I bork something up, I shrug it off, laugh and keep playing, sometimes borking it up even more while I figure my way around what I’m doing. But on the page, every bork-up sends me into CRISIS YOU SUCK AS A WRITER ABANDON SHIP YOU HACK mode, which is entirely unproductive and nonsensical. Playing guitar this weekend made me realize that it’s OK to jam a little bit when you write. To treat paragraphs that don’t make sense like key changes, to treat flutters of voice as experimentation, to single out on beats or movements that truly sing and rewrite a whole chapter around it.

Treating writing in that vein should no doubt change the way anybody thinks about what they produce. So that’s my encouragement to you, fellow writers and creators. Do what you do like you’re jamming and nobody’s listening. And eventually, you’ll have a song you don’t mind singing in front of others.

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