Rocketeer Reflections: How Music School Prepared Me to Be a Writer

Before I became a writer, I wanted to be a singer and lyricist whose words and music would touch the lives of anyone who hears them. So a decade ago, I entered music...

John Berida
John Berida October 1, 2018

Before I became a writer, I wanted to be a singer and lyricist whose words and music would touch the lives of anyone who hears them. So a decade ago, I entered music school.

Here, I learned a plethora of instruments from different parts of the world and got immersed in all kinds of music. Outside of school, I got to apply my newly acquired skills in my church’s band and for my personal compositions.

It was the perfect course and I found my studies endlessly engaging. Not only did I perform music, but I also researched about it. Students in this program have to write tons of papers on history, society, and how music affects these. I also had to practice playing three to five instruments everyday.

In other words, the course was enough to prepare me to become what I wanted to be. Because it should, right? But things didn’t really turn out the way I thought it would after college.

When I left music school, I became a writer.

Due to a variety of circumstances, I had to leave music school and began writing professionally. I started out as a freelancer, writing blog posts and copies from online jobs. Then, I worked for different companies in different industries such as events, public relations, architecture, and information technology. Today, I work as a content writer for Growth Rocket.

While many things have happened that have helped me transition from performing to writing, studying music in college has played a huge role in preparing me for my present career.

What studying in music school taught me about writing.

Playing Buk for Samulnori on stage while looking to the side and smiling

Photo by Sharlene Gumpal

You need to practice.

My major was Asian Music. Besides guitar and piano, I had to learn all sorts of instruments like the kulintang (a set of gongs from the Southern Philippines), the erhu (a two-stringed violin from China), and the sitar (a large plucked string instrument from India). I had to make time to practice for each one and study for other subjects as well.

It was grueling. Practicing repetitive passages, studying for various classes, and experiencing self-doubt in between drained me. But these made me learn the value of practicing.

Just like music, practice is very important in writing. You have to write everyday in order to find your voice and communicate effectively and flawlessly to your audience. As you keep writing, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts better. The message you want to convey becomes clearer due to the constant practice and revision: You write the words down, read them, and discover other ways to say what you mean. Along the way, like using the right chords for a song, you learn to use the right words to express your thoughts and speak in the right voice to your audience.

Don’t be afraid of negative feedback.

In music school, it was overwhelming to meet so many talented people. Performing in front of these gifted individuals scared the hell out of me, but hearing criticisms from them terrified me even more.

So I anticipated harsh comments all the time even though it did nothing to lessen the blow of any negative feedback. It hurt a lot when my pitch-perfect music theory professor told me that my lack of rhythm and brief moments of tone-deafness had no place in the institution. But in the end, those stinging comments forced me to work harder.

Like performing for the first time, a writer’s first draft can be terrible. And having your work get criticized can be hard, especially when you put your heart and soul into it. But listening to feedback from the content editors and learning how to revise my first drafts showed me that imperfections could be remedied. In fact, constructive feedback can help you learn how to write more effectively.

Performing spoken word at Conspiracy Cafe wearing black shirt and right hand raised

Photo by Faye de Leon

Put yourself out there.

Even though I was in music school, I must admit that I wasn’t that talented. I had a hard time keeping up back then. I could barely keep my tempo when I played the gongs; I trembled when I plucked the strings of my guitar; and I imagined Bach rolling in his grave whenever I played the piano.

However, the great thing about music school was that I was forced to put myself out there. Performance was a requirement. And while I had lots of bad performances, I also had my fair share of good ones. I would’ve never felt the joy of giving a great show if I’d never gone on stage in the first place.

Publishing is like performing in front of an audience. Once you’ve created your content, revised it the best way you can, and allowed it to be edited by the editors, publishing becomes your recital. Like going up on stage, it can be scary. You don’t know who’s going to read what you’ve written and what they’re going to say about it. And while there might be people who will hate your work, at the same time, there might be people who will love it.

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