Category Archives: Passion versus Knowledge
For the last two weeks I’ve been doing Flamenco. As a dance style it has always been one of my favourites. It’s fiery, passionate, rhythmical, powerful, sexy, and as much about the music as the steps and movements. The last time I did Spanish dancing was at Art School thirty years ago and I missed it a lot when I matriculated and ended up in a classical ballet company. Don’t get me wrong, I love my ballet, but there’s something about Flamenco that stirs that ancient part of man that feels and desires and recognises earthy rhythms!
Now, it’s extremely difficult to do Flamenco if you aren’t musical. The time signatures, the syncopations, the pauses, silent beats, co-ordination of body, skirt, and castanets has to be flawless in order to do Flamenco well. Fortunately, I was born musical; I hear rhythms very easily. I started my dancing career as a tapper at the age of 5 so it’s part of me. It’s different to the intricacies of classical music; the rhythms and phrasing in Flamenco can get pretty complicated. But once I allow myself to become engrossed with the sounds and beats and nuances then it takes over my movements and I am led by it rather than trying to manipulate the music to follow me.
It is the same with writing. Finding the rhythm of my writing, the ebb and flow, the cadence of the story, is vital to the creative process and the development of the story, especially in the beginning. When I allow the story (music) to take control of me then the words (steps) become easy and the story tells itself.
When you watch a professional Flamenco dancer, she doesn’t count her music 1-2-3-4, but rather the music weaves around her and she becomes one with it and in so doing tells her story effortlessly, drawing her audience in, creating emotion and passion and excitement with every step, every twirl of her skirt, the undulation of her hands, arms, and body, the beats of her castanets, the emotion on her face.
As a writer I have to use my words, the core energy of the story – its passions, colours, visualisations, characters, environment – to captivate the reader and draw him in. And to do so effectively I have to have the perfect rhythm, a rhythm that doesn’t break or stop or become annoying or disturbing because of an unnatural style which the reader will sense instinctively.
Just as a dancer has to create movements that are effortless and as close to perfection as possible so as to hypnotise her audience, so, too, does a writer.
Ebb and flow, rhythmic perfection, minimising mistakes in language, grammar, punctuation, and style, is how the writer creates the performance his readers will applaud!
As a more experienced writer, after three published novels and a short story, I still have to work hard every day to perfect my style and rhythm. While I edit I ‘listen’ to my story, sometimes reading it out loud, to hear if there is a break, something that will distract the reader and pull him out of his trance. The goal, dear Writer, is to keep the reader entranced from page one. Do nothing to disturb the rhythm of your story or you will lose him to discordance.
What are your thoughts on writing style and rhythm? I love reading your thoughts. Please share!
Last image courtesy of Billy Alexander
Last week I started reading my first draft of The Sword Bearer’s Ascension: Book 4 after months of creation without looking back to do any rewrites or edits. I took the advice of seasoned authors and wrote with the single-minded goal to finish the story and not check back on what I’d written (as I’d done with my other works) until it was time to do a rewrite. And what I discovered took my breath away!
I’m a Pantster. I do not outline or have a storyboard with cards and post-its all over my wall. I have one notebook which I use to remind myself of particular details I need to include in the story relating to characters or descriptions or vital plot twists that will make the story better and more exciting. Those thoughts come to me when I’m not writing but doing other things completely unrelated to the craft like brushing my teeth, washing dishes, watching TV, or when I’m just about to fall asleep – the latter being the best time to come up with great ideas. When I sit at my computer I allow the story to tell itself without any interference from my perfectionist brain. I do not have a muse (that I know of), but I do believe that my stories come from a place I cannot describe, a place where the magic happens – that source you cannot explain to someone who has never had the privilege of creating magic with words.
Whenever I write and allow this inexplicable process to take over, I am always left dumbfounded by what comes out of me. So, when I began reading from the beginning, I was amazed with the incredible detail and power and beauty of the story. “Did I write that?” I frequently asked myself as I tightened up my style, got rid of extraneous words and redundancies, and checked spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I have been drawn into the story anew; I experience the turmoil and chaos of the battle scenes, the love stories, the grief and joy of the characters I fell in love with – the characters that are so much a part of me that to say goodbye to them is a special kind agony reserved only for storytellers, I believe.
Rewriting is hard work; it requires an unemotional approach because it is meant to remove the detritus that accumulates, the bad habits that have crept into my writing I’m still trying to get rid of, and the stuff I know my readers won’t be interested in. Sometimes its a brutal process, especially when you have to get rid of entire scenes or delete a sub-character you really love. But it is necessary in order to create a product as close to perfect as possible. (You do know that no work is ever perfect, right? That would remove the soul of any story.) Rewriting and editing polishes up the frenzied creating that went before, that first ‘pen to paper’ moment when the fire in your belly and brain is urging you to create just like an addict’s urge to satisfy his cravings. The latter is the most exciting part of writing – for me, anyway. I have no inhibitions, I do not concern myself with perfect spelling, grammar, punctuation (my typing skills are not fantastic as it is), and I do not get in the way of whatever/whoever is working through me. And that is when the magic happens!!
My readers are going to be blown away by the final book, but before they get their hands on it, it’s my responsibility to make it a smooth experience for them. It is my duty to make sure nothing creates a bump as they lose themselves in the story. My goal is to take them in so deep, to hypnotise them so completely, that when they are rudely pulled back into reality by the demands of normal life, they cannot remember the passing of time. All they do remember are the emotions of getting lost in a story so completely that time stood still for a little while.
Don’t you want power like that? I do. I have never received a greater compliment than when one of my readers tells me they couldn’t put my book down until they finished it – all 700 pages!
Rewriting is not for sissies, it isn’t for those who are only interested in the emotional aspect and who do not care enough about the quality of their craft. I have posted on this before: Balance between passion and knowledge is vital. It takes experience and patience to rewrite in a way that keeps the passion/emotion/magic in the story alive and then compliments it with great grammar, punctuation, and style. If we can learn to find the balance then we can be better storytellers. I make sure I learn something new ever day to improve my craft. I encourage you to do the same.
I love reading your thoughts! Do you agree with having balance between passion (that first frenzied, magical draft) and knowledge (the more emotionally removed process of rewriting and editing)?
Only writers will get this, but when I can’t sit at my computer everyday and write I feel disconnected from the universe, from myself, and from my characters. Reality crowds in and I start getting irritable and my husband thinks someone else has taken up residence inside his wife.
Sometimes life and work crowd in and take over; well, they actually take me away from where I really want to be and from what I want to do. Working to pay the bills and put food on the table is necessary, but if I had a choice I wouldn’t do it. It’s days like that when I envy professional writers their freedom to not have to do another job besides their beloved writing.
I’ve been bogged down with dance festivals for the last three weeks, and even though I’ve had a few days where I’ve managed to get down around 10-14 pages, they came too seldom. I enjoy choreographing and creating dances for the kids I teach; I love seeing the end product on the stage and watching my girls, with whom I’ve been rehearsing for months, performing their hearts out and getting rewarded for their hard work and dedication. Now, this used to be my entire life – dancing, performing, rehearsing, choreographing – but when writing came along and my dance career slowed down it became my entire existence. I couldn’t believe that creating with words was as intoxicating, if not more so, than dancing. Oh, believe me, nothing beats being on stage in front of an audience and drawing them in and making them laugh or cry or applaud – it is definitely an art form where you get instant gratification and recognition – and even though writing produces the same results it just takes a little longer and a lot more (and a different kind of) work.
Writing when I’m exhausted is also hard and it takes great effort to sit down in front of my computer and make the start. But what I’ve learned as a reasonably new author, is that once I begin, once I set my imagination free, then there’s no stopping me. Tired or not, I can write all day. The adrenaline, the force that pulses through me, is addictive and one drug I hope never to give up.
Dance and writing are very different and very similar: they are both visual art forms and require the observer to use their imagination; they both take the observer on a magical journey, an escape from reality that the observer craves; they both grab the observer’s attention and hold them captive, and here is the first major difference: dance incorporates music, lighting, costumes, sets – basically, all the visuals are physically provided to help the observer become engrossed in the atmosphere created for them – whereas in a book the observer, with the author’s help, is left to create their own world, their own physical interpretation of the story, all taking place in the mind.
I thank God for giving me the ability to create and imagine. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: “Imagination is more important than knowledge…” He understood the power of imagination, that it is limitless whereas knowledge is not, and as a dancer, dance teacher, and a writer I understand and acknowledge and welcome its power, and I’m grateful for the ability to use it to its fullest extent – tired or not 🙂
When I danced professionally it consumed my world; I could not even contemplate doing anything else. But time past and life, too, and when I discovered the world of writing I realised that dance isn’t all there is. There were other ways for me to express and share what was inside me, what was inside my mind and heart, just that now it was with words. I approached it tentatively, this new, scary thing, and once I tried it and discovered that putting down on paper what was in my head was just a little harder than creating a dance piece (choreography is as natural to me as breathing!), and it slowly started taking hold of me like a powerful drug coursing through my veins and setting my heart and soul on fire! Never did I think that writing would consume me so, and I allowed it to because it replaced my passion and love of dance, soothing the pain of leaving that world behind.
Teaching dance is my job; writing is my new passion, and I cannot think of doing anything else. It’s a good thing I can write ’til I drop dead one day. I don’t think this body would be able to do leaps and turns as well as I used to as the decades go by 🙂
When I write I feel invincible, I feel alive and full of joy, so when the ‘normal’ stuff of life encroaches I get very grumpy. I even hate stopping to have food when I’m in the flow. Ask my hubby; he’s had full on conversations with me while I’ve been writing and I haven’t heard a word!! He’s slowly learning not to mess with me when I’m in the zone 🙂
Tell me about the things that you’d rather give up than have your writing interrupted. I love reading your thoughts! Please share!
- Wayne McGregor’s Wellcome show inspired by science (theguardian.com)
- An author by blood (theshevster.wordpress.com)
- Is Your Writing Style A Tango or a Waltz? (moniquerockliffe.wordpress.com)