Music vs. Writing

If my grandfather were alive, he would look at this and ask me, "So who took your picture?"

If my grandfather were alive, he would look at this and ask me, “So who took your picture?”

This post is going to degenerate into another “I hate writing rules” rant. I can feel it in me bones!

[Who knew old bones were sensitive to not just to changing weather but also to one’s own bad attitude? Old bones make excellent bludgeons by the way (especially femurs), though I believe I’m drifting off topic.]

I’ve been playing in bands or at least engaged in some kind of music project on and off for almost three decades. I’ve recorded in professional studios and performed on many stages before all kinds of audiences. The only “rules” I remember hearing are: 1.) Practice a lot, and 2.) Listen to different kinds of music, not just the style you play. Granted, I don’t read musician blogs (are there any?), but that seems like a stark contrast to the massive volume of writing advice and rules heaped upon us daily. It’s alarming how many ways I am failing as a writer.

I’m particularly negligent when it comes to “reading in my genre.” Partly because I don’t know what genre I’m in (is Twilight Zonish a genre?), and partly because, beyond my desire to be entertained and moved by good storytelling, I don’t care what other writers are writing. I’m a bad student, I know.

“Listen to all different kinds of music” is fantastic advice… much better than, “Listen to all the bands that play the same style of music you do.” Absorbing the tones, rhythms, and textures of jazz, metal, soul, reggae, classical, disco, punk, and blues music has made me so much better of a rock musician than if I’d been admonished to listen to the other rock bands to see what they‘re doing! Writing songs comes from the heart and soul, not from carefully tracking trends, as should writing prose.

Sure, no one said only read in your genre. But I’d go as far as to say, “Deliberately read outside your genre. Bring something unique when you come back.”

[Before you hurl some “apples and oranges” comment toward the stage (I’m specifically addressing Mr. Frutman in the aisle seat on the left, row 7), I don’t like apples or oranges and am therefore impervious to your cliché. Arguments about illogical thinking, on the other hand, might carry some weight.]

Look at that! I made my point in under 400 words. Who loves you?

hamster band

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I’ve been podcast again! To relive the excitement of my post on cringe-inducing books, this time with a professional voiceover specialist, click here.

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31 responses to “Music vs. Writing

  • M. R.

    When I wanted to write a book, I signed up for about five different postgrad writing courses, and pulled out of each one – eventually realising that they could not help me to write as they taught ‘literature’. I have come to the conclusion that there are simply TOO MANY RULES for writing, just as you have. The thing to do is avoid spelling mistakes, don’t write in lots of short sentences,don’t (in my case) write in too long sentences, and … go for it. My deep belief is that where a writer can really express him/herself as the person s/he is, s/he will become A Writer. As you have.

    • ericjbaker

      I couldn’t agree more! Certainly writing mechanics are important, just like you have to know how to tune your guitar. But no amount of instruction is going to unleash the storyteller within.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • slevjay

    I read several different genres of books but I write about the one I love the most. I like being able to make up outrageous things that aren’t really. You can’t do that in every genre or people start talking about how that’s not possible/real. Heck they kind of do it in paranormal even though vampires and werewolves and the like are real but they expect “real” things in the book. Irks my nerves. If I want to make up a new language and say it’s 1862 but use no dialect from 1862 I should be able to as my story isn’t really “real” or plausible. OMG I just basically wrote a blog post in your comments. Sorry 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      Rules form around everything, don’t they? Even things that aren’t real. “Werewolves can’t do that!” Well they can if I want them to!

      I like your openness to making your fictional world the way you think it should be. I recall a book by the English author Doug Adams that was half noirish detective story and half Norse god epic, like a mash-up of an old Humpfrey Bogart movie and Thor: The Dark World. Why not?

      If you want to reuse your comment as a blog post, i won’t tell anyone. Good luck tomorrow, by the way! I assume you’ll blog about it and tell us how everything goes.

      • slevjay

        That sounds like a really cool book! Yes they do try to make everyone fit in a tiny box! Lol I might just make a rant blog about it. I remember when I friend read one of the few revisions before I publish and was like the area that was set in 1625 had language that wasn’t used then and I might want to consider changing it. Um no I was fine the way it is. They are supernatural more advance than humans of that time. They say what they want!

        Thanks. I’ll def blog about my surgery. They were closed today because of a bit of snow and couldn’t do my briefing but they better do both tomorrow cuz I’m not feeling staying in a hotel another night. I’m ready to go home.

  • nrhatch

    The endless parade of “Rules for Writers” is part of a grand conspiracy of publishers, agents, and previously published authors to STOP new writers from ever feeling that they are “real writers.”

    Mr. Frutman is at the center of said conspiracy.

  • VarVau

    The instant I saw the monkey with the drumsticks, I knew this would be good.

    The only courses I had were the basics, English 101, 102, and an English 103 course that compared prose authors with prose authors who are also poets. Creative writing courses have never attracted me, and you’d never catch me taking one. I also don’t read those writers guides. What works for one writer doesn’t work for another.

  • Dave

    As a musician, especially as a young kid wanting to learn the guitar, it was simple: learn some basics, then practice, practice, practice until you became amazing. In my case, I first wanted to be Jimmy Page, then Ritchie Blackmore, then Michael Schenker … well, needless to say I never reached anywhere near their respective levels of expertise. But I did become a pretty good guitar player by following your first two rules. If I apply them with the same level of enthusiasm and intensity to my writing, I’ll produce some great books very soon.

    Once again, great observation on how we writers as a group can obsess on “how” to write.

    And yeah, are there any musician blogs?

    • ericjbaker

      You had me at Michael Schenker. Hands down the most under-appreciated ax-slinger in the music biz. Is there a better guitar solo than UFO’s Only You Can Rock Me?

      • Dave

        Awesome solo … he’s got a number of them that are just amazing, this one included. My old high school band actually played “Lights Out” on a regular basis.

        Oh to have had blond hair and a flying V guitar back when I was a kid 🙂 All I could afford was a fake Les Paul. Still cool, but cheap.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    Rules smules…I follow two when it comes to writing, write a lot and read a lot. Nice podcast, Eric!

  • Arkenaten

    I would venture that for every one who dismisses writing clubs etc there is probably a writer who will swear by them.
    I believe some form of networking is important and having a ‘team’ on board to help ( reading, editing etc).

    If there any rules that should be followed there are no doubt enough to suit every individual.

    • ericjbaker

      I do think every serious writer should run her work past an editor, but to me that is a matter of process rather than a rule, and knowledgeable beta readers are pretty critical as well. But ultimately we have to do what feels right. Or something.

  • Anonymous

    you don’t like oranges????

  • Ahren

    Nice post! I totally agree with you about listening to different styles of music and that writers should experience other genres as well. As a fellow musician (rock/pop mostly), I’ve really taken a liking to musicals and symphonies. I don’t actively write in these genres BUT they have seeped into my songs and that’s added a dimension I’m really enjoying.

  • skywalkerstoryteller

    All I have to say is I love the band you chose to illustrate this post! 🙂

  • Bob Rodrick

    I always believed a writer should write the way he or she talks. A writer’s personality should come out into his or her work. Like music, it comes from the heart, it shouldn’t schooled.

    You talking about listening to all kinds of music reminds me of a quick story from the Alwilk days. I remember wanting to crack open a new (well, new then) cassette (jeez, remember those?!) from Expose. You were against it, calling it “pop crap” or something to that extent. If I remember correctly you eventually wound up liking that album. A lot of us did, myself included.

    • ericjbaker

      I don’t recall making such a silly comment, but I’ve said worse things for sure. I’ll chalk it off to the fact that I was a young, clueless idiot. Speaking of Expose and the like, Ace of Bass and Club Nouveau came up in conversation today at work. Must be something in the air!

  • 1WriteWay

    I used to have a fair number of “how-to write” books but I’ve given most of them away. Writing “by the numbers” doesn’t appeal to me much. Yet I enjoy reading about writer’s writing (as in Stephen King’s On Writing). Those kinds of books make me think about my own writing and how I write, and I think that is a good thing. As far as reading, I read what I enjoy reading. Period. And maybe I’ll study a scene closely for the writer’s technique, but I’m not looking at rules, just what seemed to work for that particular scene that might work in my own writing. Love the mouse band by the way 🙂

  • Janna G. Noelle

    I think a good reason to read within one’s genre is to see what other authors are doing within in and to help one find his/her place and keep from repeating what’s already been done. But I agree reading outside your genre is important as well for inspiring unique takes on your genre’s metastory.

  • Uzoma

    I think reading broadly is healthy for a writer because he’s exposed to various writing styles and themes. Who knows, inspiration for a new story might climb on his wagon just because he decided to pay attention to something entirely different. For a writer who has an ongoing project in a certain genre, it’s also good to pay attention to things authored by other people that has grabbed his attention. I encourage writers to be unique, to have a voice of their own, but one can’t do this without paying attention to what makes a book in a certain genre a good read. A hit, if possible.

  • kriskkaria

    Thanks for the link to my podcast. Love the picture!

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