Thursday, December 8, 2011

Words Should (Even)Flow

I write this blog while watching a live Pearl Jam concert on tv, listening to Vedder play his guitar while the enamored crowd sings "Better Man."  He is grinning from ear to ear.  I am grinning from ear to ear because I love him (in the platonic musical god sort of way of course).  And I am distinctly jealous because no matter how well I write, there will never be a crowd of a thousand bookies chanting catchy phrases from my work.  

Actually not completely sure I'd want that.  But it did cause me to pause and think about the strong tie between good music and good writing.  Both should be listened to and appreciated for their lyrical qualities.  How often, though, do we actually listen to good literature.  Just listen?  

I was recently lucky enough to hear Margaret Atwood read from both her fiction and nonfiction works.  Sure, I love it when writers talk about writing and their process, but the reading of the literature itself was just beautiful.  She is a force.  That's for sure, but her change of pacing, the nuances of tone, even her subtle gestures made the words all the more powerful.  It's been ages since I've listened to an audio book or simply let someone read to me.  It doesn't have to be the actual author but at least someone invested in the reading.  And listening to a reading will quickly dispense with bad literature.  A mismatched, ugly sentence flows about as well as a river full of molasses.  

When I am hard up for inspiration, I often think about a song.  Not the words per se or even the melody but the feeling I get when I listen and the overall message conveyed.  One of my first short stories, seventh grade I think, sprouted from the vaguely hippy Judy Collins music my mother bought for me on a vintage grey cassette.  I think I was still sporting my Fisher Price tape player at that point with the rainbow buttons.  I hit play and rewind and play and rewind to "Michael of the Mountain."  And no the story I wrote wasn't about Michael or a magical mountain or anything else starting with an m.  But it was about a feeling of isolation and contentment all neatly wrapped in one.  It was what I thought the song would be had it been distilled into a few pages and a few hundred words.

For me, framing the writing process this way (in lyrical terms) can also force me to slow down.  The pace, the rhythm, the wording morph into notes on a page, and how they each fit and follow one another is a special process.  It's my personal heaven because I'm miserable if I've stuck things together and it doesn't sound pretty.  And I don't mean pretty like a princess or glitter, but pretty in the sense that words fit perfectly.  A musician hits a wrong note, we wince.  An author hits the wrong word, we should shudder all the same.

Will I write a raucous, bawdy romance story if I listen to Lady Gaga?  Not necessarily, but I always want my writing to sound as pretty as a song even if no one ever says the words out loud.  The effect should be the same.  The rhythm, the movement, the things that are not about plot or character but just the language need to be present.  Maybe it's an archaic view, but so much modern writing is rushed.  Slapped together with glue and rubber bands and concept, that not so often do readers look for those lovely phrases that, like our favorite line from a song, mean exceedingly much to us.

*Since I started this post, my husband introduced me to The Talking Head's Stop Making Sense concert/film which only reinforces everything I've mentioned above.  David Byrne is such a force.  Thanks, sweetie :-)