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.

December 22, 2011

Tone in Writing, Part One: Does it Attract or Repel?

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

Tone in writing is like tone in music: it either attracts or repels. I’ve sat through many solo recitals where I couldn’t wait to get out because of the performer’s rasping or edgy tone. Conversely, I’ve been transfixed by the pure, clear sound in an otherwise less-than-perfect performance.

Writers, in facing this problem, have to first learn to listen for tone. Next, you need to be aware that tone is not just a matter of listening and practice, but is also a product of what’s inside you.

December 15, 2010

How to Listen for Tone

Posted in Tone tagged , , , at 9:45 am by Rebecca Hein

Tone in writing is more than formal versus informal, stuffy versus breezy, or somber versus light. Tone is also revealed in the beauty and proportion in your sentences, the depth of your ideas, and the clarity of your structure.

Listening to tone in writing is like practicing the cello. When your words flow, as with musical sounds, you can feel whether or not they are smooth and aesthetically pleasing. With your inborn sense of symmetry and elegance you can detect bumps, awkward passages, and other flaws.

This is best worked out in warm-ups and practice because there you can experience the momentum of language without burdening yourself with anything other than your tone and how it feels.