From the Archives: The Music of Words

A couple years ago I showed you this incredibly heavy box of music that was sitting in the middle of my kitchen. It represented over a decade of choral music collected by one of our church accompanists. In the same way as I hoard books, she hoards music, and for the same reason – it speaks to her.

She needed to downsize and was returning a portion of her collection. While I sorted through the six hundred-or-so octavos and several music books, I couldn’t ignore other similarities.

Notes build phrases of melody that blend into harmony, creating music that sings in my heart.

Letters become words and sentences, and grow into stories that beguile my imagination.

Both transport me to a new place. The creativity required to produce the best form of both is art, and originates somewhere deep within. When it is well done, it impacts those who listen… and read.

The creativity represented by all this music staggers me. Each song is unique and represents hours, days, months or maybe even years of the composer’s time. More significant is the piece of its creator’s soul that is embedded in the reality of each.

Composing words and music are both forms of writing, totally different, and yet so very much the same.

~

If you are a writer, do you find your creativity spills over into other forms of art?

~  ~  ~

Graphics by digitalart

 

Thoughts, Words and Written Chaos

There’s nothing a writer likes better than to play with words. Sometimes — okay, maybe most times — we like the words to make some kind of sense… to resonate either with us as their creator or with potential readers. The choice of words and the order in which they are strung together determine how they affect us.

Blossom thoughts2

We don’t require poetry to follow stringent rules of grammar, but we still expect the words to be meaningful. Whether they are contained in prose or poetry, however, our understanding of them, and whether or not they are meaningful, will depend upon our personal perspective… our previous exposure and response to them.

In the initial stages of writing,
thoughts emerge
like gurgling waters from a geyser,
bubbling up and
bursting forth
to splatter on a page.

We don’t have a lot of control over them,
certainly not at first.
It’s during revisions
that we stare at the mess we’ve made.
We dab at it
in an attempt
to contain the chaos…
to reorder the words
into  a semblance of organized storytelling.

An entire novel
originates with a single thought,
but it’s one that must expand
and be reworked
many times
before it becomes recognizable.
Writing it is a combination of
creativity and craft,
both
exhilarating and exhausting.

I’m at that stage where the story is no longer a suspended idea, but it’s still  chaotic, with the wrong words cluttering up page after new page. Where are you at with your current project?
~

More from James Douglas…

“It is a good idea to be alone in a garden
at dawn or dark
so that all its shy presences
may haunt you and possess you
in a reverie of suspended thought.”

~  ~  ~
 

 

The Music of Words

This incredibly heavy box of music is sitting in the middle of my kitchen. It represents over a decade of choral music collected by one of our church accompanists. In the same way as I hoard books, she hoards music, and for the same reason – it speaks to her.

She needed to downsize and was returning a portion of her collection. While I sorted through the six hundred-or-so octavos and several music books, I couldn’t ignore other similarities.

Notes build phrases of melody that blend into harmony, creating music that sings in my heart.

Letters become words and sentences, and grow into stories that beguile my imagination.

Both transport me to a new place. The creativity required to produce the best form of both is art, and originates somewhere deep within. When it is well done, it impacts those who listen… and read.

The creativity represented by all this music staggers me. Each song is unique and represents hours, days, months or maybe even years of the composer’s time. More significant is the piece of its creator’s soul that is embedded in the reality of each.

Composing words and music are both forms of writing, totally different, and yet so very much the same.

~

If you are a writer, do you find your creativity spills over into other forms of art?

~  ~  ~

Graphics by digitalart

 

What’s to be done with the rough material?

Gravel is very useful. During our recent driveway paving project some of the old gravel needed to be removed to make way for a different grade of gravel that would form a more compact base for the asphalt. The workers were going to haul the old gravel away unless we had a use for it.

Do away with perfectly good gravel? I could think of all sorts of uses for it!

There is a gravel perimeter — a sidewalk — on three sides of our house, gravel-filled stairs to a lower yard, gravel pathways through garden beds, not to mention a 30′ x 40′ gravel dog yard. Their surfaces are always in need of replenishing. Combined with sand, cement and water, the gravel could also be made into concrete for a new patio, or a planter, a crude garden bench, or…. My goodness, of course, we can find a use for that gravel!

The pieces rattle from the bobcat’s bucket and soon I’m looking at the growing pile of gravel with new respect.

For now, it’s just an unsightly pile of pebbles, but with a little imagination and a lot of work it has the potential to be turned into something useful, maybe even something beautiful.

Bear with me now… this analogy might require a small leap!

Words are a lot like pieces of gravel. We use them every day, taking them for granted as we speak and read and write our way through a lifetime of ordinary conversation. We often let them spill out without any real thought or purpose — yes, like bits of gravel that we leave as discarded piles all around us. And yet they have the potential to be so much more. That’s where writers enter the picture.

Being a writer doesn’t mean only stringing words together. By using our knowledge and imaginations we can also cement everyday words into unique sentences to uplift and support, to pray and praise, to educate and entertain. Being a writer isn’t just a means of self expression or storytelling. It’s a commitment to participate in a special form of communication mixed with creation. And creation takes work. Just ask God about that! But the results can be something of great worth. God knows something about that, too.

~

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

[Proverbs 25:11]

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“Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

[Proverbs 16:24]
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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

[Colossians 4:6]
 ~  ~  ~

A New Notebook for Words

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A brand new notebook! I’m giddy with excitement. Am I the only one who enters a store and heads straight for the stationery department? The only one to dally and daydream over choices before moving on to pick up other more mundane items on the shopping list?

I have a stack of empty notebooks that almost equals the height of my To Be Read pile of books. I love all writerly tools of the trade but I have a weakness for special notebooks, particularly journals with covers in colours and textures that inspire creative words.

Maybe only another writer can appreciate the delicious anticipation of opening the cover of a brand new book, and, with pen poised, choosing the perfect word to initiate the promising blankness. Unlike beginning a new manuscript, where the pressure to produce the right start to an entire story can push us into a panic attack, it’s a gateway into the adventure of free expression.

Now, as I run fingertips over the leafy texture and consider what that perfect first word should be, I remember this poem by Sandra Heska King (thank you for permission to reprint, Sandra):

 

What’s in a Word?*

a

seed

mined from

a

thought

planted on

a

page

dispersed with

a

breath

a

jewel with

many

facets

pregnant with

personality

filled with

power

and rich

with

a million

possibilities

~

Do writing tools make your senses tingle with anticipation for the word? Or are they simply a necessity required by the task? Not counting your computer, what’s your favourite writing tool?

(* Copyright March 2011, Sandra Heska King)

 

Words Old and New

The average church hymnal contains a lot of songs. For some people their words, repeated in various combinations, are considered to be dry as dust and old fashioned. Disparaging comments are made about “traditional” versus “contemporary” as if all church music can be neatly categorized as either painfully old or progressively new, without acknowledging the true meaning of the terms. (“Traditional” is long-established or time-honoured, while “contemporary” is something that is up-to-date or currently in use.)

Many years ago my daughter gave me a book of “daily inspiration from the greatest hymns of all time” — Be Thou My Vision, (John Fischer, Servant Publications, 1995). Today I read an excerpt from the hymn that was sung as the Processional at my wedding, Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven (Henry Francis Lyte, 1834) – “…alleluia, alleluia, widely as his mercy flows.” More than 175 years after these words were written, the very contemporary application for me came in the personal comparison of grace and mercy:

“Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve. Mercy, on the other hand, is not receiving what we do deserve.”

The relevance of words is not dependent on the period in which they were written but in how they are received by the human soul. Some words will always be timeless, whether sung or read.

How do you suppose people will classify your writing 176 years from now?

Signs of Springtime

Ask people what comes to mind when they think “spring” and you’re likely to hear about longer days and daffodils, cherry blossoms and new green growth on trees and shrubs. That’s before they start thinking about pruning those trees and shrubs, cleaning gutters and dethatching winter-weary lawns.

I still remember the poem I memorized in high school English Lit class:I wander’d lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils….”* It stuck with me because I, too, love the idea of wandering hills and vales in a flurry of springtime discovery. Realistically, I’m more likely to wander the woodland path behind our home and find the first sprigs of the Woodland Anemone unfurling from beneath their covering of decomposing leaves.

There are no daffodils “fluttering and dancing in the breeze”* yet. The only bursts of yellow to be seen are the first dandelions (and staying true to another of our family’s odd traditions, they’ve been picked and mailed anonymously to the other members of the family).

I love the newness of spring, silky pussywillows, the hint of warmth in the wind, God’s promise of all that is to come.

What words suggest springtime to you? Will the invigoration that accompanies this new season have any spinoff effect for your writing?

* Daffodils (1804) – William Wordsworth

Have You Written a Novel?

NaNoWriMo statistics are out and they’re quite remarkable. Worldwide, participation was up 40% from last year and the number of winners, those who reached the 50,000 words, was up 48%. The numbers? 167,150 participants and 32,173 winners writing a total of 2,427,190,537 words. If you’re a stats geek you’ll find all the info here.

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But statistics aren’t what inspired this post. It’s the numbers and the comments from people on the NaNo forums. I never realized how common it is for people to say they’d like to write a book – people who fantasize about the possibility but who never make the attempt, or who might make a start but never see it through because finding that many words is too daunting.

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Think back. If you’ve written a novel, dredge up the thoughts you had the first time you sat chewing the end of your pencil, staring at the blank page.

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When you finally started writing did you know it was going to be a full-length novel? Or if that was your intended destination were you ever intimidated by the impending journey? Did you hit the proverbial brick wall at any point, and think you weren’t going to finish?

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The big question: what made the difference between you being a novelist or a wannabe?

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Glorious Colour or Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud?

With apologies to Jack Whyte (from whom I learned the song) and Flanders and Swann (who wrote the lyrics), I could think of no better title for today’s post.

 

There’s no getting around it. Colour affects me. I’m forever remarking on the multitude of greens in the early spring, or trying to describe the perfect tint of pink edging a garden bloom. It took literally months (ask my exasperated husband!) before I could settle on just the right shade of sage green to repaint our family room walls.  

 

I haven’t had my oils out for a long time, but I well remember the times I dabbed and mixed colours trying for a hue that was exactly right  – working and reworking the colours on my canvas until suddenly I’d gone too far and they were muddy. At that moment there was no way to reclaim the desired effect. The only remedy was to take a palette knife, scrape the canvas clean and begin again.  

 

This morning as I struggled with revisions to a particular scene I muttered about its lack of colour. Characterization was okay but the setting felt artificial, two-dimensional. There’s no lack of information on this subject but knowing and doing are too often a chasm apart. I thought I knew what was needed.    

 

I closed my eyes for a moment and visualized the scene. Then I let my fingers loose to bring descriptive life to it. I gave them free rein, and when they were done I sat back and read the accumulation of words.   

 

Oh, my! Purple prose, with adjectives and adverbs galore! I went through the paragraphs stripping away the superfluous, but that just left bare bones that poked ugly elbows at me. Like a bad painting, the whole thing was past redemption. I’d gone too far. Delete. Delete. Delete. I’ll rewrite from scratch tomorrow.  

 

Colours1Glorious colour is an ethereal glow. Like stained glass its beauty is not in itself but in the light that pours through it, effortlessly enhancing without drawing attention to itself.

 

That’s the effect I want in my writing.

 

That’s also what I hope to achieve with my life.

 

“I am the Light of the world”

One Piece (Word) at a Time

IMGP8409Last fall two trees came down on our acreage and this spring two more needed to be removed—three tall fir and hemlock trees bordering the creek plus an alder that resided in its midst. The trunks were chainsawed into chunks and transported to our driveway where the pile of wood grew to a daunting height. Splitting and stacking the weighty pieces seemed like an overwhelming task. The gnarled and knotted grains resisted axe, maul and sledgehammer. We discussed the possibility of renting a woodsplitter but days went by as we procrastinated.

 

Today was the day. By 7:00 a.m. my husband was on the road to town to rent the splitter. By 8:30 a.m. he was hard at work. He split; I carried; friends helped. By 4:00 p.m. the pile of logs was reduced to useable lengths of firewood. The job was accomplished by making a start and working at it one piece at a time.

 

Similarly, writing happens one piece at a time–one word, one page, one scene. Only when we tackle the task with the goal in mind and commit to working systematically toward it will the end be realized. Don’t look at the overwhelming pile. Reach for one piece at a time.

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