Interview with Horror Novelist Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin

Writing Monsters: Old vs. New

A Writer Learns Piano



I wrote about what to do when writers get into a rut (see Writing Rut? Stretch Yourself) and took my own advice. A beginners’ piano class had a spot open unexpectedly and I signed up. I attended one class, had to miss the second, and suffered agonies that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Class three was the other night and proved, like most fears, that all the nail biting was for nothing. Everything was fine. I hit wrong notes, pressed multiple keys instead of the intended one, and wondered if I’d ever get through “Ode to Joy.” Yes, that piece.

This is what beginners do. We make mistakes and we study and practice and (we hope) improve. I was right there with the rest of the class.

But it’s still outside my comfort zone. I’m a beginner again. My head knows stuff but my fingers refuse to cooperate. Or my head doesn’t know stuff and I gaze at the music with frustration. Why can’t I just jump to it and play? (I’m very grateful for the headphone jack in my piano keyboard that keeps everyone else from hearing me practice at home.)

Of course I’m going to make parallels with writing. If writing seems simple to do, it’s because I’ve forgotten what it took to learn spelling and grammar and vocabulary. Learning piano reminds me how to be a beginner again.

It’s important. When we create characters who know everything, they’re boring. And readers will find it hard to relate to them. (Unless they think they know everything, in which case they wouldn’t be reading this.) But feeling the uncertainty, anxiety, and frustration of learning something that doesn’t come easy to us reminds us all over again what that’s like. And then, being writers, we use it.

What have you done outside of your comfort zone lately? Did you use it in your writing?



* Image courtesy of amenic181 at



  • jan • October 26, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Lately everything seems to out of my comfort zone!

    • J. M. Levinton • October 26, 2015 at 11:36 pm

      Then you must have a lot to write about! 🙂

  • Emily • October 26, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    I wrote my first ever flash fiction piece and submitted it to a contest. Definitely out of my comfort zone, but it paid off! Good luck with the piano. It’s worth the effort. 🙂

    • J. M. Levinton • October 26, 2015 at 11:38 pm

      Absolutely fantastic!

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