Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Windham Hill and Writing

I'm sitting listening to one of my favorite albums. Don't laugh, but it's a Windham Hill Piano Sampler.

When I started listening to this CD, I was a kid and didn't own many. I usually got whatever my dad didn't mind parting with. One of those was the Windham Hill Piano Sampler. I couldn't have been more than 11 years old the first time I listened to it.  But tonight, over a decade and half later, I realized that I was predicting the music before it even reached the speakers. I knew what notes came next... how the wordless story unfolded. And it made me feel like I was home.

That is saying a lot. I was an army brat and my parents were divorced. I didn't really have a "home". Over the years, however, this CD traveled with me and was the calm in the turbulent times of my life. (Despite the fact that the music itself is not quite calm itself.)

This (of course) has a correlation to writing... several as a matter of fact.

  • No one could ever tell me what my home was. No one would ever be able to define it or recreate it for me. It was something I claimed for myself. The same goes with writing. No one can tell you how to write. As many classes as there are, they can only help you if you let them help you. Your voice can't be recreated or defined. Of course you can try, but you'll never succeed. When a great writer is born, people compare others to them. Think of J.R.R. Tolkein, J.K. Rowling, or Jane Austen (3 of my favorite writers, by the way).

  • I can predict something that doesn't have words. I'm connecting with the intangible. I can feel the way the music is going to move; I'm in sync with it. It's like the notes are being played from inside my chest. So it goes with writing. Most people hear the lyrics but forget that the instruments make up over half the song. Unless you connect with your writing and create a strong core, all you'll have is a few catchy ditties and rhymes.

  • I also know how this music goes because I've listened to it so many times. The rises and falls are predictable, and in music, I believe that's fine. (I'd be kind of worried if I couldn't predict a song I'd listened to hundreds of times.) However, in the writing world, a good solid reader has seen it all and will be able to predict just about anything. If you don't think they have, then you don't read enough in your genre. Truth is, someone somewhere along the way has dropped the same "oh my gosh" moment or created the same relationship symantics that you have. Make us fall in love with your writing, be it your characters or your particular story, and it won't matter that we've seen it done before... because we will never have seen it done by you.


  1. I like the depth of understanding in the last bit..."because we will never have seen it done by you."
    People put too much importance in story and not enough in the individual cadence of human voice and experience. Yes, we all fall in love...but did you fall in love with ME?

    We all have a story to tell. Let me hear yours.

  2. I love this post, it really speaks to me. I agree a lot with Stephen's comments. You hear often there is no such thing as an original story, it's all be done before. But, that's not always the point, is it? We keep craving new stories.

    In The Science of the Discworld, Terry Pratchett (and his fellow scientist authors) suggest that the human species should not be homo sapiens (wise ape) but pans narrans - the story-telling chimpanzee. In a way, I think you have touched on the same theme in this post. Although original stories may be finite, our craving for compelling stories (as distinct from original) is infinite.

  3. "Most people hear the lyrics but forget that the instruments make up over half the song." Beautifully said, and so true.