Monday, July 6, 2009

Listening is the Key to Good Writing: Let the Words Sing to You

Listening is the Key to Good Writing: Let the Words Sing to You

Listen to the words as you write them.

They should speak softly to you; indeed, they will sing softly to you. They will sing a melody, a cadence, a flow. They will sing music to your ears.

A song is beauty, a mummer a warning, and gibberish an outrage.

Beethoven was deaf, but he could hear the music of his words and notes.

You don’t have to carry a tune, as long as you can hear one.

Grammar, nouns, verbs, syntax should sing to you softly.

And if they don’t sing to you, it’s poor writing.

A word must fit, a phrase should flow naturally, a sentence exists independently, and a paragraph must be thematic.

Listen to them. If the melody screams out at you, it’s bad writing. A shrill note is no note.

If there’s a cacophony of voices, you’ll never get to the chorus. Stream of consciousness is for Joyce – not you. No one actually reads him.

If there’s no melody, there’s no tune, much less theme.

Jingles are catchy, but can they carry a tune? The flow must sing also.

Play with words, but make them sing.

Unless you are writing a lullaby, think of the poor reader if listening to your own words puts you to sleep.

A monotone is no tone.

Terse or verbose, how’s the tune?

Perfect tense is not always a good tune. Listen to the flow of the words.

Music is a song; so is prose, but perhaps not prosaic prose.

Affidavits, articles, blogs, books, briefs, commentaries, comments, credos, critiques, debates, declarations, dialogues, discourse, edicts, editorials, epistles, essays, epics, eulogies, farces, harangues, letters, memos, missives, monologue, notes, oaths, odes, op-eds, opinions, plays, poems, postings, post-its, prayers, proclamations, psalms, reviews, sagas, satires, sermons, short stories, soliloquies, speeches, statements, tomes, tributes, vows, should all sing. Hear the music of their words.

Contracts, without boilerplate legalese, can sing to you, if only you will let them.

Even the most turgid treatise wants to sing to you. It’s crying to be released from its style book.

Questions and answers should have their own melodies.

Be chary of multi-syllabic words; they don’t sing well.

Yes, you can use tricks, such as alliteration, but bad alliteration does not make the words sing. You can turn a phrase, but it better be in tune. “Nattering nabobs of negativity” (not my phrase) is wonderfully alliterative but what does it mean?

A chorus, choir, barbershop quartet all sing in tune, words in tune. The Who was always in tune. The Beatles, Judy Collins, Simon & Garfunkel, Martina McBride all sing words with amazing grace.

Writing is becoming a lost art; word processing, spell check and grammar check are killing it, but it does not have to be. They are computerized tone deaf, but you are not.

You don’t have to be a great orator to write.

You don’t have to read music; just listen.

You don’t have to be a singer to compose; sing to yourself with your words.

It’s not what you know, but how you sing it.

Language, and thus writing, is a fundamental sign of civilization.

Listen and you can write.

Writing, like any other skill, is natural to a few, but for most of us it is an acquired art. Labor over the words, and they will start to sing. Listen to the melody flow.

Once you get into the flow, it won’t matter how long because it will always be short.

One final chord; listen carefully to the words before you touch the send key, or you will be out of key.

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