March 1, 2018

The passion behind your writing can compensate for small errors

Posted in Creativity, Depth, Fiction Writing, Flow, flow in writing, Momentum in writing, music and writing, Tone tagged , , , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Rebecca Hein

Experienced musicians know that if they enthrall the audience, small imperfections can’t ruin their performance. An absorbed listener doesn’t notice an occasional out-of-tune note, or forgets it in the excitement of the music.

It’s the same in literature; while writing, if we build enough creative momentum, occasional omissions or small holes in our plot may not matter.

This is not an argument for sloppiness. We can only achieve excellence if we work at it with all our energy. However, we can’t let that high standard box us into scrutinizing every detail of our narrative at the same time we could be searching for the deep place within ourselves where we accomplish our best work.

I’m convinced that Dostoyevsky discovered that profound well of creativity while writing Crime and Punishment.


February 22, 2018

Your state of mind while writing is crucial

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, flow in writing, Literary Commentary, Momentum in writing, Tone tagged , , , , at 9:31 am by Rebecca Hein

What’s driving your state of mind while writing? This element of your work process can make or break your short story, novel, or nonfiction narrative. Both War and Peace and Crime and Punishment are excellent illustrations of this phenomenon.

It’s not too hard to guess what Tolstoy was thinking when he wrote War and Peace: “I want to make people think in a new way about history and the nature of power.” His vehicle, an epic historical novel, might have better fulfilled his mission if he’d kept to one genre throughout the story.

However, periodically he jumps out of the plot to deliver an essay on what power really is versus what we think it is, and how historical events prove his point. Thus, we find we’re reading two books in one: a novel about Napoleon’s invasions of Russia, and a string of nonfiction essays.

The novel is okay, though not the best ever written, despite the scope of the story. The essays are fine too, except they belong in a separate book. Possibly they would have more impact if presented in a collection of philosophical essays.

It’s obvious that Tolstoy had to express his convictions, and that the novel, as a literary form, couldn’t contain them. His failure to separate the two genres diluted them both.

Dostoyevsky also had strong convictions. But why would you want to slog through Crime and Punishment to discover the overriding conviction that clearly powered the book? Because the force of that one idea gives the story irresistible forward motion and absolute credibility.

January 11, 2012

Tone in Writing, Part Four: Gaining Experience

Posted in Tone, writing techniques tagged , at 11:46 am by Rebecca Hein

If you’ve never thought of evaluating your writing for tone, and have no idea how to do it, don’t let this daunt you. In cello teaching, the first time I told my students to pay attention to how their back muscles felt while they were playing, they looked totally blank. Yet after a few weeks of trying, they adjusted to the idea and had begun to tune in on those elusive sensations.

In the same way, you may have to spend weeks or months trying to sense the quality of tone in your writing. Practice and experience are needed for anything new, and especially for something as subtle as listening for tone. Just keep going, reserving some time each day for the easy, undirected work that will establish the flow you need, and also liberate your attention so you can really listen.

January 5, 2012

Tone in Writing, Part Three: Listening for Your Tone

Posted in Practice Writing, Tone tagged , , , at 12:40 pm by Rebecca Hein

In cello practice, I start my warm-ups and immediately begin absorbing the sound and feel of that day’s tone. To evaluate it, I have to get moving and stay moving, because if I stop playing, then there’s nothing to listen to.

In writing, I also have to launch myself and then keep going. Since this is difficult when I’m working on a piece for publication, I mostly reserve my tone-listening for practice writing. A variant of freewriting, practice writing not only flows without obstacles, it takes little attention. Then I can reserve my focus for how the words feel as they flow out of me, and this is the beginning of listening for tone.

December 28, 2011

Tone in Writing, Part Two: What’s Inside You

Posted in Tone, writing techniques tagged , at 1:28 pm by Rebecca Hein

When an otherwise accomplished musician plays with an unpleasing tone, there’s usually a reason. He or she may be nervous, anxious, or just generally under stress. This is communicated to listeners and does not attract them.

In writing, the best illustration of this I’ve run across was in a “Writing and…” book. Writing has been linked to everything from Taoism to yoga, and in reading one such book I discovered a fatal error. The author took her non-writing discipline so seriously that this tone overpowered the whole book. What came through loud and clear was not, “This discipline is very important,” but “I am very important for writing about this.”

I was bored, didn’t finish the book, and have never recommended it to anyone except as a negative example.

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