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Writing & Rhythm

I'm almost done reading Haruki Murakami's latest book, Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa, and as a writer/composer, I found one particular discussion fascinating. It's regarding the relationship between writing fiction and listening to music: after years of listening to music, Murakami professes that one cannot write well if one doesn't have an ear for music-- "listening to music improves your style; by improving your style, you improve your ability to listen to music."

Cover of Absolutely on Music

This made me think a lot more about my own writing! Rhythm has never been my strength as a pianist, though it is something I consider a lot as a composer, and as a writer. I often find myself reading my work aloud as I type it to make sure it sounds natural even off the page. This helps especially with dialogue, I think, and with voice. But Murakami's insight goes a level deeper, and it's something I want to think more about as I continue refining my crafts.

A few more quotes from Murakami on the relationship of writing to music (page 99):

“No one ever taught me how to write, and I’ve never made a study of writing techniques. So how did I learn to write? From listening to music. And what’s the most important thing in writing? It’s rhythm. No one’s going to read what you write unless it’s got rhythm. It has to have an inner rhythmic feel that propels the reader forward. You know how painful it can be to read a mechanical instruction manual. Pamphlets like that are classic examples of writing without rhythm.”

“The rhythm comes from the combination of words, the combination of the sentences and paragraphs, the pairings of hard and soft, light and heavy, balance and imbalance, the punctuation, the combination of different tones. ‘Polyrhythm’ might be the right word for it, as in music. You need a good ear to do it.”

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