It is all rhythm

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article about Virginia Woolf…

It makes me feel both guilty and inept to admit that I have never read a novel by Virginia Woolf. The closest I’ve come is Michael Cunningham’s marvellous book The Hours,  a story addressing three generations of women affected by Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. (I also saw the movie, which, surprisingly, was excellent.)

Now, after reading a recent entry in the marvellous Brain Pickings blog, I’m resolving to correct my Woolf deficiency within the next 12 months.

Focusing on the book The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume Three, Brain Pickings writer Maria Popova briefly explores the work of what she describes as one of the greatest masters of elegant, pleasurable language.

Here, for example, is her quote from Woolf’s reflections on rhythm:

Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. 

The absolute urgency of rhythm is the main reason I encourage my clients to read all of their work out loud. How can you possibly edit anything if you don’t know what it sounds like?