You Can Always Have a Piano on the Roof

I’m a child of the 90’s. One of the TV shows I loved as a kid was Hey Arnold! A scene that always stuck out to me was when Arnold had a really bad day and he went back to the boardinghouse where he grew up to mope on the roof. Suddenly, his eccentric grandmother, who had been trying the whole episode to squeeze a grand piano through the building’s small doors and windows, is shown playing said instrument while a crane lifts it and her onto the roof.

Grandma explains that this was the only place the piano would fit. Arnold laments how terrible that is. Her response? “No! It’s wonderful! We’re going to have a piano on the roof!”

What does this have to with being a writer? That scene–indeed, that entire episode–is all about optimism, finding the good even in the bad, understanding that life is full of unexpected circumstances. Having a piano on the roof may not be as bad as you think.

Have you ever had a story, a novel, a poem, a play, an idea that just didn’t go where you thought you wanted it to go? Do you have a piece that you’re disappointed in because you think it went in a direction you didn’t expect?

Writers are notoriously hard on themselves. Sometimes to the point of self-depreciation. We’re are always our own worse critics. We’ve all been there, having a story divert from our intentions or a character suddenly behave in ways we didn’t expect. It can be disconcerting, even disheartening. Maybe the end product isn’t what we wanted.

I like to think that my characters sit on my shoulders and tell me their stories as I write. And you know what? They never behave the way I thought they would. Even with all the planning and prep work involved in writing, sometimes it veers off course to worlds we didn’t even know existed within our imaginations.

Discouraging? Maybe sometimes. Sometimes these stories just don’t work the way we thought they would.

Or perhaps you have a piano on the roof.

It has become a motto for my life. The idea that writing–like life–is full of surprises. That my work will go off in directions I didn’t expect. That sometimes it won’t turn out the way I thought; the grand piano won’t fit in the door. However, there may be a chance I can find the good in what I did create, locate the nugget of an idea that has promise, and maybe what I wrote wasn’t so bad after all. Especially if I allow for a little whimsy.

So if you find yourself looking at a piece and not liking away the way in turned out, don’t distress and don’t make hasty decisions. Step away, reevaluate, rewrite, and rediscover and you might find yourself playing sonatas on your skyscraper Steinway.

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