"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       

Revision as Not Just the Same Old Song: Another Parallel to Music

September 17th, 2014 by

This might seem like a shameless plug for my Pretexts book. But it has occurred to me over the last week of talking with my first-year students about the parallels the book draws between the composing processes of Mozart, Beethoven, and most writing processes, that there is more to be made of music and writing. My book draws on the American poet Stephen Spender and classic work with Composition scholar Janet Emig to suggest that the composing styles that most people are taught in school are not adequate to the complex writing tasks they must face. For the last week, my students and I have been discussing and writing about this.

But there is more to the music. (I often like to draw comparisons with other fields when talking about problems with writing.) It also occurred to me over the summer as I labored to finish another revision of a novel I’ve been re-writing over the last few years that my struggles could be represented best by another reference to music.

I’ve noticed that when I’ve shared a song with a friend or family member, as I listen to the song with them, I hear new things in it. I almost hear it in new ways. I’ve noticed this with songs I’ve heard too much. Sharing the song, being aware that another is hearing it, causes me to hear new things.

In going over my novel many times this summer, it started to feel old, like a song I’d heard too often. I started to feel dull, and I saw my writing as dull and old. But I also noticed that when I read some of those passages to a friend or shared them in a writing group, I started to see new possibilities in them. Something, some spark of life lit up, and I began to feel a new sense of purpose in it.

For me, this parallel to the same old song has helped me to revive my sense that writing is indeed generative. One sentence, one paragraph, one draft, contains the seeds and potential of newer and further investigation. And if the writing is getting old, it might be a sign to put it away for a while. But another trick might be to have other people hear it.

Posted in Uncategorized| 20 Comments


Comment by Emily Griesinger on September 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm

This is true of reading and teaching the same literary text as well. It’s better to read with a group of students who may be meeting the author for the first time. Some “spark” in the old text “lights up” . . . again . . . and again.

Comment by Tom on September 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Absolutely. This has happened to me every time I’ve read a literary text with others. It’s very powerful. We need to have reading groups as part of our pedagogy!

Comment by Katie Manning on September 18, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Yes! I also experience this with my writing (and other texts and music and movies and…). Thanks for articulating this insight so well.

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