Monday, July 21, 2008

Ain't Got That Rhythm

I write by rhythm.

Having spent my life studying music, though, I've discovered rhythm is a weird thing.

It's a very fragile thing. Get off by a mere nanosecond, and you lose the whole flow, half or more of the audience. You lose the cohesiveness of the piece. People inwardly feel music: they don't need to know a thing about music to experience your rhythm. If you get a tad off, their toe-tapping gets uncertain and they stop feeling the music with you.

And rhythm isn't just a matter of practicing with a metronome.

My boyfriend in college was manic-depressive. My teacher and I noticed that when he was in a manic phase (or maybe it was the depressive phase, I forget), his rhythm was a mess. It was just non-existent.

There are days when I've performed and the rhythm was there. It pushed me on: it was my foundation, my support, my wings almost.

Then there are days when the rhythm is just not there, or when I feel like I'm chasing after it, or hanging on to it by my fingernails. I can play the rhythm "correctly," but the rhythm isn't there. I have no idea why; it's just not.

It's like that with writing. Some days I sit down and nail the rhythm. Some days I just don't know. Some days I write in rhythm merely out of habit and practice, but I'm not feeling it. Some days I'm not feeling it and my rhythm is completely off.

It's a strange thing, rhythm.

The best and most successful concert performers never lose their rhythm, not even for a micro-second. Yes, an audience's attention is that short.

I've noticed the same with the best-selling writers. The rhythm is always there, always on: every sentence, every word, every paragraph. The rhythm of the story unfolds perfectly; the pacing of the plot is timed just right.

Everyone has a heart: everyone's life is driven by rhythms. Everyone experiences the rising and the setting of the sun, sleeping, waking, life, death, heartbeats, breathing, etc. Everyone may not have an intellectual understanding of rhythm, but everyone can inherently sense whether something is rhythmic or not.

Thoughts? Do you think of rhythm while you write? Do you notice that some days it's on, some days it's uncertain, and some days it's just not there?

17 bonus scribbles:

Edie 7/22/2008 12:40:00 AM  

If "flow" means the same thing as rhythm (and I think it does), I sure do notice the difference. Yesterday I had it. Today I didn't. But I still made my page goal today, it just took longer and I stopped and started. I'm guessing when I read the finished draft, I won't be able to tell which flowed and which stopped and started.

Stewart Sternberg 7/22/2008 01:30:00 AM  

Excellent posting. You know, I tend to have a rhythm when I write as well. I hear or feel a sense of movement. A tapping. I think writers who don't hear the tapping probably find writing more easily. They are able to be more detached and probably are more productive.

Stephen Parrish 7/22/2008 03:55:00 AM  

I think rhythm in writing (the "beat" of the words) is the most overlooked aspect of style. It has a lot to do with word choice and varying sentence length, with the arrangement of elements in a way that best grabs and holds the reader's attention; and I think good writers are fully conscious of it as they work. Our writing community should be talking a lot more about this subject.

Mark Terry 7/22/2008 08:37:00 AM  

I'm very, very conscious of rhythm in my writing.

And I think that's interesting what you say about bestsellers. You know, I think you're right.

Aimless Writer 7/22/2008 09:19:00 AM  

Oh yeah!
Sometimes the writing moves like magic and you just know its good. Other times you have step back and leave it alone.
I just wish I knew where the magic comes from so I can find it again when I misplace it.

Travis Erwin 7/22/2008 11:19:00 AM  

Yep and isn't it sweet when it's there?

Heather Harper 7/22/2008 12:29:00 PM  

I believe it is inherent. I don't plan it in my own writing, I just do it. But I know the minute I flub it up. It's like changing the radio station your listening to by accident.

spyscribbler 7/22/2008 01:33:00 PM  


It's up and down with me, too. I really think hormones and life affects it. I notice the same thing; what I think isn't flowing at all, isn't so bad when I re-read it.

spyscribbler 7/22/2008 01:34:00 PM  

Stewart, huh, I never thought of it that way. The rhythm tends to keep me going. How weird would life be without rhythm? I can't even imagine it, LOL.

spyscribbler 7/22/2008 01:35:00 PM  

Stephen, I've always found it strange people don't talk about it, either. There is one book, which I haven't finished, called Razz-something. Razzmataz Writing or something like that. It might lean towards poetry, but I remember looking at it and thinking, "Finally! Someone's talking about the rhythm!"

spyscribbler 7/22/2008 01:37:00 PM  

Mark, I'd expect no less of you. :-) You're a musician! It was actually during a few piano concerts where I realized that the rhythm never faltered for a micro-second, and that's the only difference (outside of somewhat creative interpretations) I could find between good pianists and the ones who make careers of performing.

So naturally I checked Borders to see if the same thing held true for writing.

spyscribbler 7/22/2008 01:38:00 PM  

Aimless, me too! Me too! Why is it "on" somedays and "off" on others?

I should make a post of this: do you ever arrange little things around writing? Like what you eat? When you get up? When you go to bed?

I'm always searching for what makes me "on."

spyscribbler 7/22/2008 01:38:00 PM  

Travis, VERY sweet. :-)

spyscribbler 7/22/2008 01:39:00 PM  

Heather, what a great analogy! And so true.

You know, I think of it. Sometimes I'll choose a less perfect word with the perfect rhythm over a more perfect word with a less perfect rhythm.

Melanie Avila 7/22/2008 03:12:00 PM  

I do try to listen to the rhythm, but I'm still learning so it's not always there for me. I guess I think of it in terms of flow; the ups and downs of the story.

I'm reading a book now that seems all over the place. Just when I start to find the rhythm, it jumps to another MC and is all over the place again. I'm 100 pages in and it's the only reason I haven't abandoned it.

Angie 7/22/2008 07:24:00 PM  

I don't think of rhythm while I write, probably because I don't have a music background. I think of flow, though, and have used a waterslide metaphor more than once while explaining someone or critiquing a story. :) I think we're probably talking about the same thing, just experiencing or picturing it differently.

Whatever you call it, though, yeah, it's great when it's there and agonizing when it's not.


Avery DeBow 7/23/2008 01:16:00 PM  

Oh yeah, I have the rhythm-free days and it's very noticeable; it throws everything off. I've often lamented the fact that writing is a bubble, that, unlike musicians, the appreciation of our work takes place outside our presence. But, at least when we have an off day we can take the time to go back and fix our bad rhythm, where the concert pianist has to suffer immediate consequences.