Last year I went to a night of Ignite talks (20 slides shown for 15 seconds each for a 5 min. presentation) that were all about crafting — knitting, sewing, crocheting, quilting, sculpture — and they ranged from conceptual talks to showcases of work.
One that stayed with me was on cross-crafting, or using one type of craft as inspiration for another. Christina Inge proposed that sometimes the best way to get out of a rut in your work is to look at something different but related.
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve been reading Robin McKinley’s blog. She takes voice lessons and blogs about them:
Although it’s been rather a frustrating week on the singing front, but then what week isn’t, since I go on waking up every morning and finding that my voice has not become a clone of Cecilia Bartoli’s.* The present exasperations include (a) that I seem to have hit the wall with Caro Mio Ben** and (b) that it’s taking me so long to sing myself ‘in’ lately, so that I can start doing something, that I zone out and then it takes even longer and is even more boring. So today we started with a little chat about my unreal expectations.*** You do set the bar rather high for yourself, said Nadia, and added that Caro Mio Ben is not a beginner’s song.† Feh.
This is where the teacher-magic comes in, and I can’t explain what she did—and gods frell it anyway, I won’t be able to reproduce it at home either.‡‡‡ And there was nothing Cecelia Bartoli about it. But I was beginning to sound like I was singing the odd phrase here and there with some emotional resonance. Your emotions are okay, said Nadia. Use them. Ha frelling ha.
This took me right back to college and grad school when I was also taking voice lessons and fighting with songs like Caro Bio Ben and Se Tu M’Ami (which she mentions later in the post) and was also upset that my voice would never be like Bartoli’s, and this reminded me of how much I learned about voice through my dance experience, and how much I learned about writing through voice lessons.
My challenge has always been over thinking technique. I map out how something is supposed to work and try to follow the steps so that whatever I’m doing is right. I had danced long enough that my body understood movement, and I could get out of my own way and focus on expression. Voice, however, was a new beast, and I’d get so stuck on breath support and not cracking the high notes that I’d block out the energy and emotion that would have made those notes easy.
Writing was the same. I’d get caught up in how a scene was supposed to work and stop to rewrite and edit and perfect and forget to let the characters and emotions lead the way, so my work would sound correct and stilted. I also love books by people like Robin McKinley, but my voice is different, and it took some time to realize that just because I don’t share a similar voice and style to writers I love doesn’t mean that I can’t write the kinds of books I love on topics that intrigue me.
Dance showed me that I can trust my body when singing. My muscles will learn and remember, even if I’m not constantly telling them what to do. Voice lessons taught me that relaxing and enjoying myself produces better and more energetic work than thinking and worrying at a piece, which translated into my writing.
Technique is important as a foundation and as a finisher but not as a driving force. Sometimes it’s impossible to see that in work that’s close to you, and the best way to get out of your own way is to try something new and to use that fresh perspective as an entry point into existing work.
Here’s Christina Inge’s 5-minute talk on cross-crafting — she has some terrific examples of how artists incorporate elements of one craft into another: