Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Music of Words

I once taught Creative Writing in college.  It was to mostly ESL students, which was a little frustrating.  (It's okay, I suck at foreign languages too.)  I was teaching "story theory" when some of them couldn't successfully write a sentence.  I digress.

Anyway, I had to sit down and write my own curriculum, so I wouldn't be up there pulling shit out of my ass for an hour every week.

I was trying to figure out how I wrote, because I just did it and it was much easier done than said.  I recalled something my mentor had said to me while I was studying Humanities.  He was reading my masterwork and said something about how "it flowed, like music; you could almost feel what kind of phrase was coming next."  He meant that in the best way possible.

Listen To The Music

Since then I've realized it myself.  The music.  It's beautiful.  It's an internal rhythm that I can feel as I strike the keyboard over and over.  It tells me when to breathe and when to write in a period.  It's just that.

Shakespeare used iambic pentameter - poetry most similar to the human tongue.  I won't give you the details but haven't you felt the characters dancing on the edge of plain speech and poetry when you read those plays?  I have.  It's a connection: music - poetry - prose.

Another class I had mentioned that same point: prose is poetry, just more hidden.  The good writer doesn't deliberate as much but he still "feels" when and what sound word goes in the next spot.  I remember being a master of alliteration and assonance before I ever knew what those things were.  It's not bullshit: I just listened to what sounded good to me and imitated it in my head.  And then I wrote like that.

I used to stay up late most every night when I was in gradeschool listening to the radio: WRVO Public Radio.  They had "Old Time Radio Shows" from 8-12 midnight every night; and I memorized the schedule.  There was usually comedy, followed by drama, followed by suspense (my favorite show was the final one called "Suspense" featuring a famous actor or actress (their voice anyway) in a radio play about something truly bone-chilling.  Some of those shows were better than any film I've ever seen.  They called it "The Theater of the Mind."  That's all they had before TV and it was as important as today's shows are now.

I remember listening to the words: they had a cadence to them.  The writing style was old but it had a knack that was lost in today's world.  An elegance.  Looking back over the years, I credit much of my internal writing cadence to the master work of these unsung hero writers who penned those great radio plays.  Those were my books, though I read quite a bit also when I was a kid.

I Play Music

I've never been amazingly good at any instrument, though I was a bit of a jazz pianist as a 4th through 5th grader.  But I drew, and later I canned both the drawing and piano for the writing, which I never regret.

I don't ask myself what word comes next.  Sometimes I'll be stuck if it's a serious story or thing for work; but only for a moment (the Word Thesaurus comes to the rescue oftentimes) and then I find the magic word and the train runs again.

"It just sounds right," I told my class, when answering the question "How do you know what words to use?"  I realized I was that teacher who, after honing his abilities over long, hard work, just said to his newbie class: "Don't worry, just do it; it's easy," which is a really douche-bag thing to say when you are supposed to be teaching.  Like a ski instructor who throws you down the double black diamond on your first run and says, "Just Do It!"  I would take my ski off and split his head open!  Okay, not really, but you know what I mean.

I'm falling asleep and haven't completed all my work yet.  Tomorrow (today now) is another double and I'll be gone before the crack of dawn and not home til the day that follows.  Such is life.  I just had to get this in.  I have to write; it just flows and I'm damned if I don't.  If I didn't it would all well up inside of me and then bust.  So I write, and it sounds beautiful (mostly), like music.


  1. This strikes a chord with me. Seriously, though, I type qwerty, extremely fast, and when the words flow from my mind through my fingertips to the page, I hear the music.

  2. Glad that struck a chord and I'm not the only one. And I'm not crazy.

  3. After following the fascinating discussion you sparked on LinkedIn, I had to read more. Your post strikes a chord with me too. (That pun just fits like a glove...and now I'm mixing my metaphors and similes.)

  4. I'm glad. I have thought of this for a long time and it's cool to see how many writers find it second nature also.