“People read with their ears, whether they know it or not.” – William Zinsser, On Writing Well
I grew up surrounded by artistic people who would sometimes let me into their studios when they were working. My dance teacher would say, “Close your eyes and feel the movement,” when I was trying to “see” the steps. A friend of my mother’s who was a painter would say that she could “hear” a painting being born under the brush strokes across the canvas. Another friend who was an architect said that the New Mexico landscape of sagebrush and clay and cacti “talked” to him and told him where and how to design and build a house.
The sighing, breathing, groaning, writhing, and sweating of modern dancers in the University of New Mexico gymnasium as they rehearsed for a performance literally seemed to help a dance be born. My mother’s friend would listen to classical music as she painted, the energy of it focusing her attention on her work, and, I imagined, shaping the subject matter on the canvas, but she never talked about that part of it.
Watching each of these people work always seemed to me to be physical rather than intellectual – the creation of art needed a physical, emotional, sensory element.
When I was in my first play, when I was 14, the director said, “Rehearse your lines out loud. Words have energy and that energy will help you memorize them.” And it was true, but I didn’t know it was possible to write the same way…using the energy of the words themselves, saying them out loud. Not just mouthing the words, but speaking them, as though I was reading them to someone else in the room.
My three favorite books on writing are Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, The Elements of Style, by E.B. White and William Strunk, Jr., and On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.
I love the attached story in the Times about Zinsser, who is 90 and can no longer see. So he coaches writers by “hearing” them read their words out loud.
It reminded me of Andrea Bocelli, to whom I listen almost exclusively when I drive Interstate. He is blind…but his inner sight is remarkable. I have always had a fear of not being able to see, or losing some other sense. But when I listen to Bocelli, I know he has the ability to tune into something “else.” Whatever it is, it’s an interesting lesson…using the absence of one sense to tune into another.
It’s all about energy…