Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rhythm and Writing

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Just for a bit of inspiration, I dipped into Joyce Carol Oates, The Faith of a Writer. Battling a cold, I'd taken to my bed with her book, the novel I'm rereading--A Separate Peace--and a new book of writing exercises called, Naming the World, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.

In an essay on inspiration, Oates quotes Virginia Woolf. She'd written about the connection between style and rhythm in one of her many letters, analyzing the complexities of the writer's life. I took pause when I read the following:

A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in has to recapture this, and set this working and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit in.

I really connected to this passage, in love with thinking about inspiration as a wave. Ripples, seas, and swells are waves of varying intensity. The process of writing, for me, begins with feeling some kind of disturbance--whether it's taking notice of some sensory detail or acknowledging a feeling--which leads to a transfer of energy in space and time. This breaking and tumbling that Woolf refers to, begs to be captured in words and phrases, sentences and paragraphs.

Moving on to Bret Anthony Johnston's, Naming the World, I noticed an essay by Paul Lisicky called, All about Rhythm. I turned to page 286, and it began with the same Woolf quote highlighted above. Don't you love when the Muse hits you on the head, urging you to learn something new about writing? The same quote placed before me in a matter of an hour, sent me on a quest to find out more about waves.

Waves are born when wind meets water. Speed and distance and time are the variables that influence formation of what's called a fetch. I'll make the leap and say I believe rhythm in writing is formed with the right combination of pace, and psychic distance (how close or far the writing is to the reader) and word combinations. In Lisicky's essay, he says the master of rhythm is the poet. He asserts that if a writer is to find the rhythm--the break and tumble of waves brought forth on the page--one needs to be:

...more deeply aware of pauses, sentence length, stops, even alliteration and assonance in the ourselves up to our own rhythms--the patterns of our everyday speech, the quirkiness of the way we move and walk--and carry those over to the lives of our invention.

So today, as I delve into writing my work-in-progress, I'm going to be thinking about waves. The way they spill and roll, plunge and dump water on sand. Here's hoping I'll find my rhythm, a surging type of wave; one that will knock my readers over and drag them deeper into my story.

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