From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

Category: writing advice (page 2 of 2)

The Abbey Road Medley and Writing

Transitions and conclusions vex me, and I think many writers feel similarly. I know it matters that I carry my reader along with me from paragraph to paragraph, but I also don’t want to drag them. I’m looking for something between a sentence that begins with “Now I will transition…” and nothing at all.

Not that it’s so terrible to be direct, at least the first time. However, variety is the key if you really want to impress with style, and I think we can take the medley on the B-side of Abbey Road as an example of a variety of transitions. The Abbey Road Medley is a series of eight songs that transition easily from one to the next, but in different, creative ways. The first transition, from “You Never Give Me Your Money” to “Sun King” is possibly the most subtle. The song itself actually ends, in terms of the chords, rhythm and melody. All the voices and instruments fade away, until the listener is left with the sound of a strange little cricket.

The cricket is a small detail, something irrelevant to the music. However, the cricket’s chirp continues across the break between the tracks, and just like that the group makes the transition. The Beatles can continue with “Sun King,” one of Lennon’s trippy, relaxed songs in the tradition of “Dear Prudence,” knowing that their listener is still with them. Being insinuated comfortably into this song makes a considerable difference. “Sun King” itself is droning and otherworldly, and written in nonsense Portuguese. This leaves us with the question of how to transition out.

The answer the Beatles gave was letting the last chord, the resolution, of “Sun King” run into the next song, “Mean Mr Mustard,” basically moving the break slightly into “Sun King.” Although “Mean Mr Mustard” now begins with a chord that is very misleading, that’s mostly a problem if you’re analyzing “Mean Mr Mustard” as a discrete song or listening to the song in reverse. As much as I like this track, I don’t know of anyone who listens to it that way. Interestingly, the ending is the exact opposite. “Mean Mr Mustard” simply ends.

“Polythene Pam” begins abruptly. The listener knows another track must be coming because “Mean Mr Mustard” has concluded, so the next track, giving you no downtime whatsoever, gets right down to business with a hard and fast chord progression that comes back with the chorus. If every transition was this abrupt, the listener would be disoriented, but it’s refreshing as one form of transition among others.

Abbey Road

Much like sentence structure, I find the key to good transitions is variety. I’ve tried to use the medley from Abbey Road to demonstrate a few different ways to transition between paragraphs, and if you listen to the medley, you may be inspired by a few more I couldn’t articulate here. Hopefully you’ll even find some inspiration regarding conclusions.

The Case for Simple Writing

arrowsWhat is “good” writing? Many people mistakenly consider “good” writing to be characterized by long, flowing, flowery sentences that test, tease, and bend the rigid rules of grammar, using countless commas and unnecessary language and verbiage to lull the reader into a sense of complacency and confusion; that is, until the reader receives the pseudo-break of a semicolon, only to be thrown back into the baffling, confusing, and some could say perplexing, depths of a sentence that never seems to reach its foregone and tragically inevitable conclusion. There is a place for sentences like this, and that place is your personal diary or journal. However, superfluous writing does not belong in academic essays. In fact, I think that academic writing should be the exact opposite; it should be simple.

In every piece of writing, the writer and the reader play unspoken roles. The writer is there to communicate ideas to the reader. The reader is there to interpret those ideas. As a writer, why make the reader’s role more difficult than it needs to be? To me, the best essays are clearly written and well-organized. They have concise, arguable thesis statements. They have well-written paragraphs that are situated in a predictable, structured fashion. They do not contain writing that serves no purpose other than to confuse the reader or to put the writer’s extensive vocabulary on display. Once again, the writer’s role is to communicate ideas to the reader. The best essays are the ones that do so in the clearest way possible.

My defense of simple writing may seem like a defense of boring writing by default, but I disagree. Unnecessarily long sentences exhaust the reader and steal attention from the piece as a whole. Think of every sentence as a simple brushstroke. Individually, a singular brushstroke seems insignificant. However, once the artist combines that brushstroke with others, the piece as a whole becomes clear. Writing, like any art form, is often at its best when it is simple and accessible. This notion especially holds true in the field of academic writing, where the writing that seems dull actually shines the brightest.

Write What You Know

Writing what we know is not writing what has happened to us, but rather writing through the lens of what has happened to us.

A lot of writing advice is really useful — “show, don’t tell”, “kill your darlings”, and “write every day” have been pretty clear and reliable to me. However, one piece of writing advice that never failed to confuse me was “write what you know.” This convenient phrase sounds easy in the moment, whether you read it from a list of writing tips or a mentor urges you onward with an inspiring tone.

“Ah,” you think. “Of course. Write what I know — what else would I write?”

It’s not until you’re sitting in front of a blank screen, the blinking cursor taunting you, that you realize how terribly unclear this advice is. The barrage of questions starts:

What do I know? Do I write about my life? Do I write about the books and poetry I’ve read? Have I read the right authors? Do I know enough about my subject? Do I even know anything?

The doubt starts to creep in. Writers have complicated, full lives, right? They’re artists, so they have to be tortured, or worldly. I have so much life I haven’t lived! What do I possibly have to offer?

perspectiveOver time, I have come to find that this deceptively simple saying is pretty misleading. For me, it has more to do with perspective. Writing what we know is not writing what has happened to us, but rather writing through the lens of what has happened to us. In other words, we write with the eyes through which we see the world.

The best way I can illustrate this is to have you picture a simple scene: a horse runs through a field.

Picture it. Really picture it, every last detail, like you are living it right there and now. Got it?

Here’s what I see: A black horse gallops through a field of overgrown and wild grass. The sunlight ripples on it like on the vast ocean. It’s distant and yet the earth vibrates as it thunders past, the center of everything. Then it’s gone.

I’m willing to bet that’s not what you saw, because that’s not what you know. The colors of that (very short) story were impermanence and vastness and darkness and light. The colors of your story were likely something different, but beautiful nevertheless.

I hope that makes “write what you know” a little clearer. If not, don’t be afraid to write a little of what you don’t know, just as long as you’re writing something.

Image: images.unsplash.com/photo 

Newer posts

© 2018 From the Center

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑