Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stop and find the rhythm

I'm still slogging through revisions. If anyone has been tracking my progress (cause it's such an exciting way to spend your time), I've been slogging through the same revisions for close to two years now. It's inspiring, I know.

One of my writing buddies posts on facebook what she's working on each night, which I actually find inspiring. She writes epic fantasy, so her status updates are always awesome. Like "Tonight's revisions: Kiri slaughters the town of Magdelon with a magic sword."

I've been debating doing that, in the mornings. I've done it mentally for a few days now, and here's how it's gone:

Sunday.   This morning's revisions: Kersey and Naomi walk through Belfast
Monday.  This morning's revisions: Kersey and Naomi walk through Belfast
Tuesday:  This morning's revisions: Kersey and Naomi walk through Belfast

As you can see, I've got a major problem here. I'm going in circles.  It isn't pretty.

And then yesterday, I ended up in the most random of conversations and got amazing advice. It was myself, an Education professor, and a guest-speaker on campus we were hosting, along with his wife. It was the first time I'd met all of them, and we'd somehow ended up in a car together as part of a convoy to lunch.

The Education professor was describing her morning teaching rhythm to a 7th grade guitar class, and she said, "I tell them to pay attention to the mother beat."

The guest-speaker asked what a mother beat was (for which I was grateful).

She said, "The mother beat is the rhythm that's underneath every song. And I tell them that when they get lost, they should stop and listen for the mother beat and they'll find their place again.

 I found this fascinating, the idea that every song has a pulse, a consistent rhythm underlying that can allow you to find your place again if you get lost.

And I got to thinking, do stories have mother beat's too? Is there a pulse, a rhythm you can always listen for to find your way back when you get lost? Maybe it's something different for every book, like theme, or maybe it's something different for every writer, like voice.

And the real question, can the mother beat of my story pull me back when I'm so far lost?

I think it can. It's all a little bit fuzzy and abstract in my head, but it feels like this can be the inspiration I've been looking for.

What do you think? Can your story have a mother beat? Can it help you find your way when you get lost? Can you tap into it with music? Do you ever get inspired by something too abstract to explain, but that makes a practical difference for you? Anybody else want to join a drum circle now?

P.S. - I wasn't sure if the phrase 'mother beat' is a real thing, or just this woman's own phrase for the concept. Don't google it to find out though -- if you type 'mother beat' into google, you'll be horrified by the number of news stories of mothers beating their babies. Christ almighty it's a sick world.


Maureen said...

I adore this concept and yeah, I really do think stories have a thread or beat, or theme or current or system... It's in our voice, it's in our head and we know it in our heart.

I do think the trick is to get out of the way and trust your ears to hear it. Your heart to know the beat, your blood to respond and follow the deep currents that spin the world around.

Ever listen to Harry Belafonte sing "We Come From the Mountain" - with the Muppets? Go here, listen...I think it explains it all...

haleigh said...

What a great video, Mo! Thanks for sharing.

I think you've got a great point about trusting our own ears, and getting the hell out of our own way. It's both discouraging and encouraging how often I go back and realize that a scene would have been great if I hadn't tried quite so hard to add in the emotion, and tipped it over the scale to melodrama.

Terri Osburn said...

I was smiling until I read the PS. Wow.

I played drums in HS band so I'm totally in for the drum circle. Since I played bass drum, I'm thinking I might have been the mother beat. Heh.

My guess is the characters are the mother beat of a story. For me at least. Everything comes down to the characters. What they want. Why they want it. What they're afraid of. What they're willing to do or not do to get what they want.

For me, it always comes back to character.

And I have to say, The Muppets were so genius. I miss them.

MsHellion said...

Yes, I believe stories have a mother beat...much in connection with the theme of your story. If you reconnect to what you're trying to say with your story, you can get back on track. But I love this new way of looking at's a lovely analogy.

Incidentally I think my revisions would LOOK a lot like that.

Revisions: Eve has doubts she's making the right decision; Adam is a douche canoe.

Revisions: Adam is a douche canoe, making Eve have doubts she's making the right decision.

Revisions: Eve doubts her choices; Adam is a moron.

See...far too alike.

Haleigh said...

You're a drummer, Ter! I love it. I briefly played the French Horn in the marching band, which is so not the same.

I like the way you use characters, and tie everything back to them. Especially what they're *not* willing to do (which is, of course, what you make them do, right? insert evil laugh here)

Haleigh said...

Hellie - I thought it was really lovely too. Not ground-breaking, but I'm definitely in the need of a twist on something to inspire me.

I love you're revisions. We're definitely in the same boat. I've started noticing that the more I revise, the more I feel like I'm just repeating the same interactions over and over again. Ugh.

PS - douche canoe is totally my word of the day. I'm going to see how many times I can work it in :)

Terri Osburn said...

You might not want to use the phrase "work it in" when talking about a douche canoe. Just a suggestion.

Terri Osburn said...

BTW, I have round 2 edits to do and I might try this update thing. Just to see how it turns out. Might look something like:

Day 1: Sid and Lucas butt heads
Day 2: Lucas ticks Sid off
Day 3: Sid ticks Lucas off


Marnee Bailey said...

This is a perfect blog.

I feel like we get this vision of what the story should be like, a movie of it in our head. At least I have it in the beginning. But then I start writing and then I can sometimes get bogged down. I need to keep true to that vision. Keep going back to how I see it in my head.

Haleigh said...

You might not want to use the phrase "work it in" when talking about a douche canoe. Just a suggestion.

AHHH! sooooo true.

Haleigh said...

Marn, yes!! This is my problem too. I'm so bogged down in each minute interaction that I've lost the big picture entirely, and it's making the revisions harder.

Well, revisions are always hard, but at the moment, I feel like I'm making them even harder than they have to be. I need to go back to seeing the bigger 'movie' in my head :)

Haleigh said...

I have to say, seeing you guys have the same revision status day after day makes me feel better. At least I'm not the only one banging my head against a wall over here!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Love this post and I agree that I think the Mother Beat goes back to theme - that even if you are a character driven book, there is a message your characters are sending and it's that thread that holds the whole story together in flow.

Janga said...

I love the analogy, Hal. I find immensely comforting the idea of a "mother beat" that the writer can reconnect to and find her way back to the heart of her story.

The thing that concerns me most about revision is that every change seems to necessitate yet another change, and the process seems endless.

Maureen said...

My first rounds of writing are so bad...honestly, just throw it all out there. Which means things are melodramatic, or superficial...with the rare bit of magic. The thing is...the beat is there. I finish the song, and I tell the story. Revisions? Well, for me they are more about not fucking things up. Keep to the purity of the story and polish.

Like a very cluttered and dusty room. If I try to tackle the whole thing in one sweep, I'll go nuts. Instead, I step in and I let my eyes go a little fuzzy and dance about the room...a little here, a little there. And I do this over and over.

If I did an update on would read more like the '...and then, one summer, at band camp...' Noodle, noodle, noodle!

Drum circle...yeah...campfire on the beach, rum, marshmallows and drums!

haleigh said...

Scape - the thread, yes, the one that runs through everything and holds it all together. Love it!

haleigh said...

Janga - yes! For every change I cross off my list, I have to add five more! And then I'm not sure if something came before or after another change, and then things get out of order (like I suddenly have a character reacting to bad news that doesn't come until 2 chapters later).

I find it comforting as well. There's always a path back.

Maureen said...

Read a great book my Nina Kirikki Hoffman once. What drew me to it was the title... The Thread That Binds the Bones...

Love that title...

haleigh said...

So true, Mo! The beat is there, even when the story isn't polished or revised or perfect, because the characters and the theme are there.

I've been known to try to tackle a whole room at once. It's never a good idea :) I like your plan!

haleigh said...

ohh, that IS a good title!

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