One Bar at a Time

My new voice teacher has been insisting I work on sight-reading, a skill I never learned as a young person. While I have rudimentary ability in this area, I generally feel handicapped when I’m called to prepare for performance. I’ve survived a number of choir concerts, but it would be nice to read with more confidence. I appreciate my teacher’s willingness to be patient with this retiree (OK, semi-retired) as she works me through one sight-reading exercise after the next.

This week she suggested I break the song into little pieces. When I master one bar at a time, the sight-reading process becomes less daunting. I’m not sure I’ll ever be “literate,” but working on this in a methodical way is making it easier for me to interact with the literature. This’s what my voice teacher calls individual songs.

I’m facing another hurdle, a “now or never” conundrum. I’ve got three novel manuscripts I believe are ready for publication: a middle grade mystery, a young adult novel, and a novel for adults (whether the third one is commercial fiction or literary fiction, I’m not sure). I’ve tried various approaches to get my work onto an editor’s desk. I’ve mailed manuscripts. I’ve emailed them. I’ve attended conferences and pitched to agents and editors in person. I haven’t come up completely empty. I’ve received a few nice notes from editors of major publishers on earlier drafts of the first two manuscripts, now significantly revised (the third has not yet been pitched). As an aside, I’ve been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. My poetry chapbook was an Eric Hoffer Book Award category finalist. Yet success in novel writing has remained elusive. I’ve stopped believing I’ll ever find the person who sees reason to get behind my long prose voice.

As I face this impossible task, yet again, I’m considering my voice teacher’s recent advice, “Work on one bar at a time.” Set little goals and complete them—one after the next. My first goal is to polish my supporting documents—query letters and synopses. My second goal is to make a verbal pitch to two literary agents via Zoom at the Willamette Writers Conference. Once I check these boxes, I’ll put together a list of agents and shoot out a pile of queries via email. If I can keep up staccato pressure approach, maybe…