I attended an incredible concert in which Joshua Bell played the solo violin in the Johannes Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 77. You might ask, what was so wonderful or different about this concert? Little did I know that when Brahms created this piece, this was the first time a violin was so heavily featured in an orchestra. Usually there are violins, of course, but not where the violin soloist actually takes the stage front and center and literally outplays all the other instruments.
One reviewer wrote right after the first performance in 1878, “The Brahms Concerto was for violin against orchestra–and the violin wins!”
When Brahms wrote this concerto, he didn’t have as much confidence in it as we might imagine. In fact, he wrote to his friend, Joseph Joachim:
“I really don’t know what you will make of the solo part alone.” He then asked Joachim to mark the parts that were difficult, awkward or impossible to play.
After that the two geniuses worked on the composition back and forth, Brahms heeded his friend’s “editorial” advice and tweaked the composition as needed.
As a writer I was impressed by this collaboration. So often we write alone and wonder if what we wrote works. Although we doubt ourselves, we don’t always abide criticism. Greatness comes when we recognize we don’t have all the answers when we allow others to see our work, and when we listen to their thoughts. This is exactly what Brahms did, thank goodness for all of us.
Now, years later we can enjoy one of the most magnificent pieces of music ever written.
What does this teach me about my own writing?
1) Get what you want to write on paper. Do not doubt yourself in the creative process. Brahms wrote the first draft, knowing it might need some work.
2) Send what you’ve written to someone whose advice you trust. Do not send it to someone who will simply say, “I think it’s great.” Send it to someone who can give it a critical eye and lend good advice for making it better. Develop a cadre of Beta readers.
3) Revise what you’ve written based on the input you get. Then send it again for more critical review.
4) Revise and revise until it becomes the magnificent piece you intended it to be.
When writers tell me they never have to revise or that they can write a perfect first draft one time and one time only, I have serious doubts. Even Brahms doubted himself and listened to the excellent advice of another. That suggests that we can do the same thing.
What are your thoughts?
Joan C. Curtis is an award-winning writer who has published 5 books, both fiction and nonfiction, and numerous stories. She has a doctorate in Adult Education and has spent her professional life as a communications coach/consultant helping people to master the everyday verbal and written word. She’s provided entertaining and educational workshops on everything from Dealing with Difficult People at Home and Work, to How to Hire the Best Talent, before transitioning full time to writing. Her business books include such titles as: Managing Sticky Situations at Work and Hire Smart and Keep ‘Em, published by Praeger Press.
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