The Celtic harp is a beautiful but stubborn creature. It won’t always go where you want it to go. Unlike its larger and more domesticated cousin, the classical harp, it absolutely refuses to move into certain keys (F sharp for example and A flat major). Any key change, in fact, is awkward. With a classical harp you can glide seamlessly between keys with the help of your foot pedals. My harp has no pedals. Instead I have levers; a very different story.
Recently I’ve been trying to expand my repertoire of wedding pieces – and boy, how those classical composers like key changes! I used to be scared of key changes. While you are busy plucking strings with every finger of both hands, how can you simultaneously reach up to the top of the harp and twist a lever? To do it without a break in the music you need to be incredibly fast and incredibly accurate – not qualities I’d put anywhere on my list of attributes. I used to dread twisting the wrong lever (they’re so close together!) and causing a horrible discord. The mere thought of a key change would put me in panic mode. But I’m braver now.
Arranging this new stuff for my harp has been a challenge but I’ve realised that I was missing out before. So much classical music can be played on a clarsach; it just needs a lot of devious preparation and practice to do it. Key changes. I’m beginning to love them.
Can I apply this to writing? I can and I will! It’s all about getting out of the comfort zone. It is tempting to stay with the formulas you have tried and tested, the plot devices that have worked for you before. Possibly you excel at the three-act structure, the first-person narrative or the twist-in-the-tail ending. But I’d recommend a bit of striking out into a new key. A different angle, a different voice, a different genre - something that scares you a bit…
Writing, like music (and life in general) shouldn’t be all about staying safe, but about taking risks and embracing challenges. As I've found out, you learn more when it's difficult. Ultimately you achieve more, too.