Monday, February 7, 2011

Playing by Ear

I'm convinced nothing great is done on purpose.

Nothing. Maybe God can do it, but I can't, and I don't think any other human can do it.

You simply can't come up with a "great" idea, employ "great" writing, develop a "great" marketing strategy, and issue forth to the world a "great" masterpiece that spans the generations.

Greatness is an accident, every single time. Don't get me wrong, there are intentional components that go into structuring great writing -- plot, scene structure, grammar, and so forth -- but the truly great pieces are written by accident.

The author writes by ear, feeling the story, forgetting about the rules, forgetting about sentence structure and paragraphs and action scenes and descriptions and dialogue.

Lemme give you an example, since I see some of you nodding and saying, Loon-ball.


Good example, right? But what the hell does romping bootie have to do with writing?

I'll tell you, since it's obvious now that you don't combine those two things like I do.

Great sex is never on purpose. I mean, I've had great sex when it was pre-planned, but there were always little unknowns, little twists and turns and unforeseeables that made it that much more fantastic. There were little tweaks that made good sex great.

And those twists were accidents.

Let's skip the gratuitous detail and let me challenge the naysayers by asking this: Do you plan every position, in advance, before you engage in sex?

Nope. It's spontaneous. You have some idea of what you want. You have some general skills, specific talents, a place and a partner and an arsenal of dirty thoughts.

But it's not pre-planned.

Neither is great writing. You can have a general idea, and a place, and a plot, but the writing, the act itself is ACCIDENTALLY banging out just the right words... who would have thunk?

Who could have guessed?

You read it later and realize your monkey paws did indeed pound long enough on that keyboard to peck out a masterpiece!

And when you try again later, bang all you want, you can't do it again. Because it was an accident.

Don't believe me? Go ahead and try.

- Eric


Phoenix said...

First and most importantly:

"Romping booties." heehee!

Okay, now that I'm done being twelve years old:

I honestly think greatness is a combination of the two: discipline and spontaneity.

Because, let's face it, not everything spontaneous is great. Sometimes it's just crap. So how do we know when it's great or not great? When we have had the discipline to know our craft (or, hell, our significant other) and then allow ourselves to find that freedom of spontaneity INSIDE the carefully disciplined play zone we have created for ourselves. That is what makes good things great. We are disciplined in the mechanics (good writing, good grammar, good, uhm, kissing) and then we sit back and trust in the work we've already put in, get out of our heads, start listening with our heart, and WHAM. Greatness appears, unplanned but not unpredicted.

In other words, I think you are dead on correct, I just had to add an addendum to it. ;)


Eric W. Trant said...

Nice addendum!

Melissa said...

I actually totally agree with you. Great things are accidents with a good foundation.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

I have to say that I agree for the most part about "happy accidents". We just need to embrace them when they happen.

On another note, I can't believe we both used "breaking the rules" and "loon" in our posts today. That was a happy accident.

Wine and Words said...

PASSION! The kind of passion that causes spittle to form at the corners of your mouth while your hands excite your hair into a lunatic's coif! The kind of passion that forgets to eat and loses days and wears two different shoes atop a spouses trousers. I believe it is a certain type of crazy passion (the unstoppable I HAVE A MISSION kind) that turns accidents (or missteps), into masterpieces.

(Bootie romping? *snicker* Such eloquence!)

Anonymous said...

I think I agree with your thesis. Years ago Robert Frost told (well, he wrote it and I was reading it somewhere!) how he wrote Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. He had a "feeling" for the poem, but when he began he didn't know exactly how it would end. The last stanza with its repeated final line was an "accident," an accident that created a great poem. The emotional impact of it still resonates, many decades later, in my mind. Would that we all have such happy accidents in our writing!!!
Ann Best, Author

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Make sure you clean up after yourself after you bang out a few words.


Can I just say that 100 monkeys typing (and scrumping) don't make great literature? Accidents don't happen, son.

I don't think greatness is an accident. Greatness is something you need to learn, to harness.

The first time you have sex with someone may be great, but if you keeping working at it, you can get to a point where it's beyond great.
Great sex is practiced and perfected, just like everything else.

All the words I "bang out" are crap. It takes months to turn them into something great.

As far as the sex, instead of just jumping into bed, how about preparing something? Candles, bowl of ice, feather duster, edible shorts, silk ropes etc, and see what happens next.

Jules said...

I believe Phoenix had a valid point to your already good comparison. However, the accident of me letting monkey paws in my bedroom well... not happenin' :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Stephanie Lorée said...

At this point, I'd settle for good.

Writing, that is, not sex. I mean wait, good sex is welcome too. I mean...

Oh forget it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Romping booties is a new one! And I like to do a little planning ahead...

dolorah said...

I plan as much as I can, and let nature take its course. Yep, some things are better if you're flexible at just the right juncture.

Awesome analogy :)

I do believe you can work so hard at a writing that you ruin it trying to make it perfect. I've got a couple of those. The story I'm honing for the Honest Lie 2 submission may be one of those.

I took a concept and expected to make it a short story, finished it up at barely more than a flash fiction, and am trying to expand it to that short story word count.

It will definitely be an accident if it goes anywhere.

Think I'll go chase down me som romping bootie - gotta be a good book around here somewhere . .


Raquel Byrnes said...


I've heard musicians riff, just play what comes to their soul and its usually amazing.

But the ones that really know what they're doing...understand technique and style...they're the ones that take it to a whole other level.

So maybe its a few things that work together to make those moments.

Maybe its talent and time and a touch of spontaneity.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Jai Joshi said...

I'd comment on the subject of this post but I can't get past the banging and pounding.

Don't stop, Eric. Don't stop.


Anonymous said...

I just read the comment you left on my post about blogging. I just have to say, it's an incredible little essay! I think you should post it on YOUR blog.

How frustrating it can be sometimes, blogging. To be honest, the reason I started blogging was because my publisher said I needed to. With a disabled daughter, I can travel around doing book signings, though with so many bookstores closing that might not be much of an option for anyone. Yay about no book signings, which really aren't that effective, but not about book stores closing.

Life just sometimes overwhelms us. A new baby. Other children. A disabled child. Work. And if one wants to write and keep writing, well, all this social media is too much sometimes. I'm getting more control over it. But I do love the blog, especially the people I've met through blogging.

See what you did. You wonderful mini-essay got me going!!

Do have a good weekend.... Sincerely,

Ann Best, Author @ Long Journey Home