November 23, 2011

Momentum, Part Two: Uneven Bowing

Posted in Flow, flow in writing tagged , at 5:26 am by Rebecca Hein

We all struggle with difficult passages in our writing, where it feels like we’re running into obstacles, no matter which way we turn. If we were dancing, we’d have the proverbial two left feet. Yet the solution to this off-kilter feel can be surprisingly simple.

In cello playing, uneven bow strokes are the equivalent of two left feet. You play two or three notes on a downstroke, then just one on the following upstroke. So it’s literally a case of three steps forward, one step back.

If awkwardly done, it feels clumsy and worse yet, it quickly works you to one end of the bow or the other. Then you have to stop and re-position the bow.

Yet when things are rolling along just right, you play in the same three or four-inch section of the bow, and it feels like a perpetual-motion machine. The one-note upstroke feels equal to the three-note downstroke. In a sense, it is equal because in one note you’re traveling as far as you did with the previous three. Obviously the single-note stroke has to move three times as fast as the three-note stroke, but it doesn’t feel that way. Perfectly balanced and going nearly on its own momentum, uneven bowing sails on and on with hardly any effort for what should be the harder stroke.

For writers, getting unstuck and re-establishing forward motion is the key. As with uneven bowing, nothing is gained by flailing around in “two left foot” mode. Instead, it’s necessary to get moving again; freely pouring out the words, with momentum as your primary goal. Having re-established this feeling of freedom and flow, you return to your difficult passage where you’re more likely to sail through it just as a cellist sails through the perpetual motion of uneven bowing.

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