The Rhythm of Writing

When you’re in the midst of writing something, you settle into a natural rhythm.  The words set the backbeat and the fingers follow the melody in your mind.  Yesterday, when I sat down to write about the sun, there was a lot of racket outside my window as four corners of an intersection were being torn up to replace the sewer drains.  I decided to put on my closed-ear headphones, crank some iTunes music to drown out the heavy machinery, and write my article.  I discovered, to my dismay, that something had changed as my natural writing manner was out-of-sync with my eye.  My fingers couldn’t find the melody.  My words had no natural backbeat.

I soon realized  I was missing the auditory feedback of my keyboard keys clacking their response to my inspired fingers because I was listening to music in my headphones.  Being unable to hear that plastic rhythm was throwing off my writing style and I had lost all intention.

I didn’t want to take off my headphones because it was better to be out of sync than to be overwhelmed with drilling machines pulverizing granite — but I still needed to write something for the day.

I decided I needed to find the right song to match my mood and writing style of the moment, and instead of hearing my auditory tactile typing feedback for my driving rhythm, I would  listen to Lou Rawls‘ incredible rendition of “Tobacco Road” from his “Live at the Century Plaza” album over and over again.  If you know the song, and read my article, you can sync the music with the rhythm of the sentences.

Finding your rhythm throughout the day is an important task because your internal metronome is what helps propel you forward and out of stasis.  Sometimes environmental sounds can push you, other times, you may need to create your own false rhythm to trick your body into obeying the future.

I find doing jumping jacks can reset my internal metronome and get me up and moving ahead again. If you find yourself feeling logy and out-of-step, change your backbeat! Get up. Move. Clap your hands. Snap your fingers. Tap your toes on the floor. Once you reset the click track, your body will follow.

For this article, I did not wear headphones, and I could hear my clackity keys over Lou Rawl’s “Cotton Fields” — from his “Black and Blue” album — thumping at me from computer speakers, pushing me to finish.

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David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an author, lyricist, playwright, publisher, editor, actor, director and producer for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at BolesBooks.com | Earn the world with BolesUniversity.com | Get a script doctored at ScriptProfessor.com | Touch American Sign Language mastery at HardcoreASL.com

23 thoughts on “The Rhythm of Writing

  1. I am definitely going to try this. I find that with some of the better articles that I have written, they come out smoothly in one go — when I write an article piecemeal over time it is never as good! :)

    1. That’s another good point, Gordon — honor the flow. Just sit down, and get it all out in a single shot, then go back and revise. I think that method better serves the inspiration than trying to recreate it in pieces.

  2. I am not even sure I could write at all in the city – there is so much noise of all kinds . I so however have power up music to get my mojo going – I will get up and dance or do the chores in between peices – or in between writing and sorting the pictures out – I will also sing badly! I try and get it out in one shot – sometimes outside factors make that it impossible and I have to wait to recapture the mood.

    1. Writing in the big city is a chore and different from writing in the flatlands — that was the biggest adjustment I had to make when we moved East from the Midwest.

      I’m glad you are syncing your internal rhythms with your writing life! It makes it all so much easier! That’s why finding a dedicated time to write is so important. Your body starts to prepare for it and the flow gets read to move from within.

  3. I would have found that very tough indeed – city life noise is so very different to rural noise

    I think I am back in the swing – mr P now jokes about my “job” …………. he is very sweet about it and asks me if I need to go anywhere for my “job” every day !

  4. Mine/ours is ever evolving – some get done, others we realise are beyond our capabilities and some we decide we not longer NEED !

  5. It’s same here, to some extent. I can’t really write with music, though maybe its perhaps the fact that music messes with the rhythm of my mind more than my fingers. Though you do have a point. :)

    1. Hiya! Thanks for the comment.

      I agree writing to music can be difficult at first, and I do find myself speeding up and slowing down with the speed of the song. Playing the same song over and over, though, gives you a chance for repetitious anticipation, which helps a bit.

      1. It might take a while, but I can see what I can do. I’ve noticed soundtracks really help, because songs with words really tend to mess with my rhythm.

        1. It definitely tests multitasking — but right now I’m listening to the radio, playing Lou Rawls, watching TV, preparing to teach a class, talking to you and others and outlining my articles for tomorrow. SMILE!

  6. Oh… Lou Rawls, haven’t listened to him in a long while. It is funny how our mojo can get all out of whack when our internal metronome is off. I really like that analogy too. Music has such a huge effect on me. most the time, if I am writing or doing art, I like it quite. I really should create a play list for specific tasks and moods i want to project through because now it could be The Beach Boys one minute then Bauhaus the next – makes for a pretty schizophrenic piece. And I obviously need better multi tasking skills!

  7. As someone who currently has about a thousand term papers to write (I may be exaggerating slightly…), I identified with this so much! Even if I have the thoughts ready and waiting in my head, they just won’t come out right if I’m in the wrong place, be it emotionally or physically. I tend to lock myself away like a hermit when I really need to focus, and the only music I listen to is classical.

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