Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Write In Tune

by Hannah

I read and reread the Essay in the New York Times Book Review this Sunday, in which Haruki Murakami talks about becoming a writer and the influence of jazz.

"Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have a good, natural, steady rhythm... Next comes melody -- which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of words to match the thythm." He says his style is as deeply influenced by Charlie Parker as F. Scott Fitzgerald, by Miles Davis, by Thelonious Monk.

When I write, I prefer silence, or indeed, jazz. I can listen to U2, of all bands, as long as I don't pay attention to the lyrics, letting sound flow in the background. (My daughter, peeking over my shoulder, asked why I don't mention The Who, her favorite band. There, I did, but I can't write to them.) I like complicated music when I write, if I listen at all, but it needs to be on low and it needs to be such that I can choose not to pay attention to its complexity, instead allowing the whole to wash over me.

When I am not writing, I still love jazz and blues and rock. And folk. And classical. I like music played by the person who wrote it. Take the rock genre alone. I love James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt. I love John Mayer and Aerosmith, The Who, KT Tunstall, Miles Davis, Dixie Chicks, Tom Petty, David Bowie, The Beatles, Brian Wilson, Annie Lennox, Bob Dylan, the Fray, Dave Matthews, Stevie Nicks and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love musicians who string together more than notes, adding in the poetry of lyrics.

I once thought that if you wanted to teach children who "hate to write" to write, you would sit them down and ask what is on their iPods. What are the songs? What do they say? Write them out on a chalkboard or SmartBoard or a roll of poster paper. Wrap the room in words they love. Then you could throw in a poem, not letting them know it didn't come with a melody. Then slide in a short story. Use music to show them their world is filled with writers and words, tell them anyone can put them together, one by one. Ask them to write a line, to arrange words to match the rhythm of their lives, then to keep that rhythm steady, to keep it going. Just keep going.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hannah, this is brilliant! Guess whose children will have a writing assignment this week? I'm going to pass this along to my teacher friends.


olufunke grace bankole: said...


how true murakami's observations are.

as i wrote last night, i too thought of the rhythm of the words, and how important this is to the overall tone of my work. in fact, i find i edit mostly for this rhythmic flow--to be sure the piece as a whole is smooth.

Lisa Marnell said...


And how amazing a strategy to jump-start writing sessions: to listen to the rhythm of beautiful lyrics inspire the writer within.

I love Bruce Springstein - lately. It always changes...


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I figured you all must have things you listen to if not while writing, at least during the non-keyboard phases of the process. I love to hear about who uses what! (Springsteen, oooh!) I did use a short version of the writing class exercise with some fifth graders once, and they all did come up with ideas and a page or two in their blue books. (Probably about the crazy lady who thought even rappers could role model something for preppy suburbanites!)

By the way, on this steamy day, my word verification tag is aquama. Quite a coincidence!


Lisa said...

I too favor classical and jazz when I'm writing, but I'm surprised at how often it's silence I favor. The tiniest distractions, like lyrics seem to take away my concentration. Lately, I'm listening to Bartok and I return often to Pablo Casals playing Bach's cello pieces. One of my characters is (or was) a violinist so it's mainly strings lately. Do you often read your works in progress aloud to listen to the cadence? As I crawl along in my journey, I've learned this makes an enormous difference for me.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I also find reading aloud helpful, for the flow, to catch repetitive words, and especially to hear the different voices in dialogue. Bach cello pieces sound lovely. I need to dig around in the collection and pull something different to the top of the pile.


Larramie said...

First, your posts this week are all "picture perfect," I like the graphic addition.

And yes, Hannah, your ideas for teaching writing are brilliant, though need not be limited to children.