Ten writers for children. All with something to say.

7/10/09

Ancillary Benefits of Writing


A "writing" life is what most of us writers hope to attain--the freedom of not having to work a "day job" in order to make ends meet with only short spurts of time to squeeze in writing. When I say "writing" life, I also mean engaging in "writerly" activities, such as attending writers' conferences or retreats, taking or teaching writing workshops, belonging to a critique group, promoting your published work, reading as a writer, researching new ideas, etc., all of which take much time away from actual writing. I can finally say I have attained the writing life, including not always getting much writing done.

And then there are the ancillary benefits of the writing life--the chance to follow one of those little obsessions you have for the purpose of better understanding your characters or making your writing more accurate without feeling as if you're wasting your time. My current ancillary interest (or should I say obsession?) is learning to play the mountain dulcimer.

Four years ago, when browsing through a craft shop, I came across a beautiful instrument. I was drawn to it initially because one of my characters in ROAD TO TATER HILL plays the mountain dulcimer. But I think it was the craftsmanship and the lovely honey-colored, curly maple with its intricate swirls of wood grain and texture that made me want to hold it, strum the strings, and listen to its musical tones. I splurged with money from a school visit, bought the dulcimer, and found the perfect place on my bedroom wall to hang it. I did not learn to play it until two years later. My editor wanted more of the "hog fiddle" worked into my novel, and in order to do that I decided I needed to do more than just read about it. I already had enough of a musical background to read music, understand the theory of major and minor keys and chords, time signatures, and rhythm, but I had never played a string instrument.

I signed up for a one-week series of classes and learned just enough to pique my interest and strum out a few simple tunes while singing along. Throughout the year, I kept in touch with a classmate, and we met to practice every few months. I also gave my husband a dulcimer for Christmas and drew him into this obsession. Recently we both attended the Dulcimer Week at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, where we took classes throughout the days and attended amazing concerts each night, followed by jam sessions of all levels of ability in the dormitory lobbies. We lived and breathed dulcimer music (folk, spiritual, blues, rock, and classical) for that entire week and are hooked! No, we aren't experts and don't plan to become performers, but we can play some recognizable tunes, some of which I plan to perfect well enough to be comfortable playing during my school visits to promote my book. In the process, I've also added depth to my characters and setting for ROAD TO TATER HILL (and perhaps future books with an Appalachian setting) and have gained a whole new set of friends and potential readers.

My dulcimer still hangs on my bedroom wall (alongside my husband's) when I'm not playing it. But on a regular basis we take them down, tune them, and make music!

10 comments:

betsy woods said...

Edie, your are back and this resonance is beautiful, as is the dulcimer.

Christy said...

All I can think of is Jean Ritchie, Jean Ritchie, Jean Ritchie. Wish I could sit and listen, join in on some harmonies.

Edie said...

Thank you, Betsy! And, Christy, Jean Ritchie was the topic of many conversations and storytelling. It was a wonderful week!

Author Amok said...

Great post, Edie. I can just see that beautiful dulcimer hanging in your house. Here's to lots of musical school visits in your future!

Edie said...

Laura,
Thanks for checking out this post and also for your validation of those "ancillary" benefits of writing!

Stephanie said...

Gorgeous instrument:)

David LaRochelle said...

Your dulcimer music must be a wonderful addition to your school visits, Edie. I'm always in admiration of people who are willing to learn new things. I wish you could have added an audio clip to your blog post!

Edie said...

Hmmm, an interesting idea, David. However, I'm not sure I'm ready to be heard on something that can be listened to again and again. Give me a few more months of practice!

Anna C. Morrison said...

The dulcimer is lovely! I wish I could hear you play. What a great idea to add it to your school visits. I am sure the children will enjoy it very much.

Edie said...

Thanks, Anna! And thanks for checking out our One Potato...Ten blog!