In Q and A, I try to get at something valuable from my fellow writers, by asking just a single question.
Installment #1: Rob Gray, Portland, OR.
You are a musician as well as a writer. How much attention do you pay to the musicality of language, at the level of the sentence or otherwise, when you write? Do you read your work aloud before deciding whether or not it’s finished? Does the way something “sounds” get as much privilege as the way it looks on the page, or the way it reads in your head?
The musicality of language is important and something I try to pay close attention to. Most people probably pay attention to it, at least on a subconscious level—the way a sentence is balanced and how comfortably it sits on the tongue. Language and rhythm go hand in hand and it is pretty easy to navigate those waters relying mostly on instinct — whatever comes naturally and feels right. These days I do not get particularly excited about rhyming or repeated patterns of rhyme, though they can often be helpful and interesting tools to explore. I guess one rhymes a lot more when writing a song than a piece of fiction. It just happens more naturally in that arena, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes the best thing to do is to set up a pattern and then turn your back on it. It can catch readers/listeners off guard, which is usually a good thing.
There is music inside, behind or beneath, everything. I try to build each sentence, or line, with its own musicality in mind and explore how it fits between its neighboring sentences. Eventually you are looking at rhythms within rhythms. The way you balance a piece depends on how you decide to orchestrate your sentences or lines or words. It helps to think about writing in terms of music and also architecture. It is good to think about building and composing. There is never really a correct way of doing anything creative — it just depends on what you’re working on and what effect you want it to have on whomever might experience it.
I do read my work aloud to myself, even if it is not intended to be performed. It helps me work out what’s on the page and what’s missing. It is easy to write something without having a solid understanding of what you are saying, so sometimes it is necessary to work that out. I find that reading things aloud helps me organize my thoughts and can be particularly helpful when it comes to editing and revising and achieving a balance I am comfortable with.
There are times when the way something sounds does get as much privilege as the way it looks on page, and there are times when it gets more. Sometimes it’s OK to say something that sounds good but is actually pretty silly and sometimes that is a terrible thing to do. Aardvark. Sometimes you just need to write Aardvark some place it doesn’t belong, just because. Or salmon.
* * *
Rob Gray is a musician and writer living in Portland, Oregon. He is currently an Editor at Housefire.