Using Rhythm in Writing

I have been something of a writer for many years. Not really professionally, so to speak. But I have always enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. I think my passion for the written word dates back to my 3rd grade days. My teacher really encouraged us to write. A group of friends and myself fancied ourselves as authors. We’d carry around our little spiral notebooks, and compare “projects”. We’d fantasize that we were successful writers working on our latest books. In later years, I was gravitated towards music, but always kept writing. I was, and still am, a literature fan and poetry reader. Oddly enough what made me really want to write again is studying song lyrics. In particular, people like Dan Fogelberg and others who would do so well with the physical sounds of words.

In taking classes and writing workshops in college, I graduaally discovered that I don’t think of writing the same way as some of my English major peers or professors. But it was always to hard to quantifyâÂ?¦ As a musician as well as a writer, I tend to feel and think rhythmically. So if you were to read my writing with that in mind (see some of my poems on AC), you’d see that. My writing comes out with a rhythmic feel. Doesn’t matter what genre of writing if it’s prose, poetry, or research. It just happens like that. At the root of that, is my believe that creativity (in whatever arena) should be as organic and natural as possible. Making music should feel as natural as talking. Reading and writing should flow like a conversation or a nice song. Let me see if I can break this down and put some shoe leather on this for you. ? In standard western music, rhythm occurs usually in groups of 2, 3 or 4 beats. 80% of all Western-based music is in 4/4 time – 4 beats to the measure and a Ã?¼ note gets the pulse. Count along with the second hand on your clock evenly – 1-2-3-4. That’s equal to a metronome setting of quarter note = 60. Now that I’ve successfully went over a lot of people’s heads, let’s think about this. With that 60 beat pulse in your head, start talking or thinking in words. Soon, you’ll start to internalize sounds and make word choices on this pulse. There’s more Musically, a quarter note (one tick of the second hand as per above), can be divided.

Now for every tick of the hand, get two beats in. These are eighth notes (1/4 = 2/8). And you count them as subdivisions in music: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and, etc. you should get two in with each tick. Try that for a few minutes. Words have acoustic properties to them; they function in space and time and have timbral properties to them. (one of my professors called words “acoustic artifacts”, which I think is a great descriptions. So now as you speak, think about how you are saying. Look at your speech in terms of it’s rhythm. When you are conversing with a friend, think about the give and take of your exchange. There is rhythm in that. Even if you’re not musical, go to your local music shop and buy a little metronome. Sit with it for a while when you write. Think about and talk through the cadence of your writing in terms of the even beats. The metronome is annoying at first (it’ll feel like Chinese water torture or something), but you’ll start internalize beats and beat patterns. This will really give your writing some punch and panache, because you’ll start to look at words as they occur in time. You will also see lines for their rhythmic conitunity not just for their content. I haven’t fully clarified this approach in my own mind yet, but it does make sense to me.

Try it out, if you need a little jump-start trick for your own writing. Even look at the rhythmic aspects of this article, look at the flow and word choice I used. Look at some of my poetry here on AC, and that of some of the other gifted poets here. I think this will start to make sense to you. I intend to write more and study rhythm in writing from this musical angle. I’d like to quantify this enough to be able to teach it someday in a seminar or a workshop setting.

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