Writing rhythms

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Do you pay attention to your writing rhythms? This subject fascinates me, but I seldom see anything on it.

I start out a day warming up with email and/or blogging. Then I pull up a file to start writing or revising. If the work is going well, I write for a while. But I find myself stopping at odd points, not because I’m stuck about what to do next, but because it just seems that I need a pause. Like my writing time has to be syncopated, or slightly off the beat.

Often, I will turn to a how-to book and read, then suddenly stop in the middle of a page and go back to the mss. Or, I’ll check email or read a blog.

Often, I find that when I go back to the mss, it’s that something wasn’t quite right and I needed to go back and fix it before moving on, but I couldn’t exactly pinpoint what that thing was. Taking a break lets me go back with semi-fresh eyes and see the problem. Not major problems. Just working or rhythm that is slightly off.

Rhythms for Longer Works

On a larger scale, the rhythms of writing a long work like a novel revolve around life. I take Saturday/Sunday off most weeks, so I can spend time with the family. Speaking engagements, family events, etc. mean time off of writing. These larger rhythms are important, too, because they give perspective. They are also frustrating when the writing is going well and you want to forge ahead, but you’re forced to pause indefinitely. When you come back to the work, it’s hard to get back into the rhythm.

But thinking about the rhythms somehow makes it easier to get back into it. Allowing myself to take those longer pauses helps, too. It’s the mental aspects, of expecting and welcoming the pauses that seems to be important.

Rhythms of Genre

Another variation is time spent on various types of writing: blogs, articles, picturebooks, novels, emails. The shorter things of articles and picturebooks are part of the longer rhythm of writing a novel, because they work into that long process. Blogs and emails are part of the daily rhythms, and provide variation within that context.

Do you pay attention to your writing rhythms, both large and small?

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1 Comment
  • Clive
    October 18, 2007

    This is a great subject. We are surrounded by rhythm. The daily rhythm of life, of work, of play. The rhythms of time, the forces of nature.

    For me, I think it mostly works in the subconscious – especially regarding my writing. I’d be forcing it if I sat down every morning and insisted that I build rhythm into every sentence, every paragraph. It’s linked to style in a way. Should we put aside a draft that concentrates on rhythm? Not just prose, but the rhythm of the story, dialogue and characters too?

    Although a tough ask, someone should write a book on the subject because great rhythm in a story at its various levels usually results in a classic.

    Clive.