Saturday, April 26, 2008

music and the parrot

From: Traci

I've read all your books (and loved them!) and I have a question. Since you're a musician as well as a writer, how do you think music influences your writing, if at all? I was a saxophone major in college before I started writing, and it seems like I have have a more instinctual understanding of prose rhythm and cadence than a lot of my peers, and that I write paragraphs and scenes as much by "feel" as by craft. What do you think? And do you think it's possible to tell when a writer is also a musician by the feel of their prose?

I'm also a Clarion'05 grad, and am going to Seton Hill University for writing, where Tim Esais (I think he said he knew you?) just passed my thesis.


I've corresponded with Tim, but we've never met. We have a mutual friend in St. Louis who put us in touch, and three or four years ago Tim was very helpful regarding an obscure bit of Icelandic history that I might use if ever I write the Aud the Deepminded historical novel I've been contemplating.

I don't think of myself as a musician. I used to sing but I don't regard that as being a musician. It just came naturally. Singing is something everyone on the planet does, unless for some reason their vocal cords are broken. I did it in front of others and (occasionally) got paid but that makes me lucky, not a musician. A musician, to me, is someone who consciously hones her craft, who dedicates himself to it, who takes a natural talent and trains it, commits to it, the way I have committed to writing. Perhaps I could have become a musician, but I don't think I actually was one.

That aside, no, I don't believe musical expertise has a single thing to do with writing expertise, unless it's as simple as equating to a general proclivity for art. Sometimes those who have learnt to give it up for one art find it easier to let go of the rational pilot (the censor, what I think of as the critical parrot on the shoulder peering at everything and occasionally spitting) and go with the flow. But most flow, it seems to me, stems from expertise.

You're familiar, I'm sure, with the saying 'You are what you eat.' With writers, I think we are what we read. Reading is what gives us our natural rhythm. Writing--jumping off the cliff--is where we learn to create new rhythms.

Ooof. I hope that all makes sense. Here at the Griffith-Eskridge household we've had a writewritewrite drinkdrinkthinkthink day and my brains are deeply fried.

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