This year, I took part in February’s Music Writer Exercise (#MWE) on Twitter. Created and hosted by Gary Suarez (@noyokono), who writes about music and culture writer for Forbes and The Quietus among others, #MWE has simple enough instructions: listen to one album you haven’t heard before and write a tweet about it every day for a month.

I saw Gary tweet about this and decided to participate for a number of reasons: I wanted to challenge myself to work on my writing and thinking now that I’m published in print and getting paid regularly, I wanted something to keep me engaged in a community as I adapted to a new city and work-from-home schedule, and – most of all – it just seemed like a bunch of fun.

The ultimate goal of #MWE for me was not to end up with 29 pithy tweets (you can read them here if you like) or even to fill in the gaping holes in my music knowledge. It was to better understand myself as a writer and as fan of music. To get in my head, dig around, and figure out what’s holding me back. In that spirit, #MWE wouldn’t be complete without reflecting on the last 29 days. This writing is for me to help me work through my thoughts; however, in line with the open nature of #MWE, I’m sharing it with the larger #MWE community. In looking back on the last month, I’ve thinking a lot about what writing is and how to be a better writer. It seems to come down to a few things:

  • Thinking
  • Writing
  • Courage

Thinking

Writing is thinking, shared in text. Good writing requires good thinking. It requires knowing what you want to say before you finish writing. With so many outlets treating content as a commodity, it’s easy to overlook this in an effort to churn out more stuff.

Writing only 140 characters (often less after adding a picture and hashtag) about an album put this in sharp focus. Writing succinctly requires having a complete picture and then picking out the key bit. I found myself thinking, almost meditating, about what I was listening to as long as I would for a longer piece. Being clear and to the point requires a thorough knowledge of your subject. I didn’t accomplish this for all 29 tweets, but I realize that to be a better writer, I need to start my writing process by being a student and being curious. I need to start by asking, “How much do I know about this and what can I learn?”

I thought about pieces of writing I really enjoy (for example, “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie”) are meticulously researched. They reveal new information to the world. Reading them, it’s clear they had a complete set of thoughts they worked out before they wrote. Writing it down was the end, not the beginning.

Resolution: When writing, build in research time and time for the mind to have space to learn separate from the need to write.

Writing

It’s pretty obvious that writing would be one of the key elements of writing. I am talking of the physical act of writing (typing mostly) and the craft of writing well. Both are challenges, but #MWE revealed to me how I can tackle each.

The physical act of writing is about momentum. It’s like going to the gym or giving up sugar. If I can get on a roll, successive days and weeks of succeeding, it becomes easier. If I am sporadic about it, it becomes difficult. #MWE forced me to write (and think) about music for 29 days straight. I had some blips here and there, but for the most part I succeeded and the writing became easier at the end. I even became excited about doing it. I would tell my non-writer friends about #MWE and that I had to go finish my listening and writing for the day before I could go out. I found my friends to be supportive and encouraging which fueled my desire more.

To write well, I learned that I need to edit better. Because it took me so little time to draft out 140 characters, I would write several times and edit several more. This increased as the month went on and I think some of my better posts were later in the month. I don’t allow myself the time to do this in a lot of my other writing. Sometimes, it’s simply a time constraint. Other times, it’s laziness. I like to think I “edit as I go”, but that’s not nearly as effective as writing and then editing. If I’m multitasking, that’s just doing two things half as well together as I could do them separately.

Resolution: Write regularly. One of the ways I will do this is to start posting on this blog at least twice a month. I’ve had this site as a place holder, but now it’s time to put it to use.

Resolution: Build in time to write multiple drafts and keep them. Don’t edit as I go. Edit afterwards.

Courage

I overthink what people will think about what I write. This has its advantages – I carefully consider the impact I could have – but it can also be paralyzing. I envy other writers who seem so confident in what they say and seem to have no fear of what people will think of them.

Some of that confidence just comes naturally for some folks. It doesn’t for me, but I believe part of my fear can be overcome through working on thinking and writing. With clearer thoughts, I can be more confident in what I want to say. Writing regularly means I’ll encounter my fears more often, get used to them, and get more comfortable with them. By investing more in my drafting and editing process, I will be more secure in my writing. For me, confidence is earned through hard work and I need to put in more of it if my writing is something I want to be proud of more often.

Another part of overcoming this fear is putting myself out there instead of fighting battles in my head. Towards the end of #MWE when I started sharing with my non-writing friends, I felt like I was standing straighter.

Resolution: In times of doubt, ask myself, “Am I doing enough?” If not, get to work. If yes, reach out to a friend.

Music Discovery

A few last thoughts before I call it a night:

Music discovery is a mess online. #MWE providing a willing and helpful community that gave me some great recommendations. I wish it was available all year around.

I listened to a lot of older albums during the month and I found Spotify has a big UI issue on pages for artists like Miles Davis and Sun Ra. They have so many albums – live albums, reissues, greatest hits – and it’s hard to find the original albums that I wanted to hear. Spotify could benefit from some further categorization on their artist pages or at least a way to filter them.

Resolution: Read Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever. I read an interview with him on WAMU’s Bandwidth blog and the topic of how to listen to and discover music in the streaming/algorithm era is fascinating to me. It’s something I’ve been interested in since grad school. In another universe, I should have been the one to write this book, but now I’m going to use it to learn all that I can and see what I can add to the conversation.

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