A driving idea for me—and one I find myself coming back to again and again—is the music in words. It may be, for me, a by-product of being dyslexic, with all the auditory-learning baggage that comes with it, but the sound, rhythm and meaning of words are all inextricably tied together.

A recent post on John Adams’ excellent blog, Earbox, considers Flaubert’s tireless pursuit of le mot juste; describes the writer’s (often)  day-long quests for single, perfect words. Did that pursuit include sound and tempo as prerequisites?

For me, the beauty (and happily-torturous challenge) of writing is that, yep, there is one word more right for the expression of an idea than any other. And, for me, that includes its heft in the ear, its quickness or languor, its hiss or hum or voluptuous feel. Finding that combination is a breathtakingly wonderful treasure hunt. Discovering it is what joy is made of.

The right amalgam of the three characteristics becomes the assassin or the deliverer of the idea. In my work, I am convinced that you can see it, feel it, on the page. It helps my chapters pass “the read aloud test.” And I imagine I can see that quality in others.

Take David Byrne, for example. A peerless rhythmist–in lyric, in delivery, in body language. If ever one were tempted to wonder whether he’s truly a writer in his heart (and one look at the journalizing in his amazing blog, davidbyrne.com will answer that question in about a microsecond), just listen to the man talk.

He is halting at some times. Eloquent at others. If you’ve ever looked over a writer’s shoulder as he or she wrote using a word-processing program, you’ll immediately hear the precision word-searcher in the man. He stops. He backtracks. He stumbles. He edits. He wipes out whole hunks of sentences and re-casts. And he does it on the fly, his formulations a paragraph ahead of his voice. This is a writer’s brain at work, no mistake. What comes out on the written page is not as style-bound as might be found in others’ music-in-words. But the process is there. And it’s a joy to hear.

Thank you, David. Thank you, John. Rock the word!

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