A New Angle
As an aspiring writer, I’m constantly looking for new ways to improve my command of the English language. A new angle that can help me better understand the flow of words, and give me an edge over everyone else. To that end, I remember reading that one of my favorite writers, Hunter S. Thompson, learned to write novels by retyping his favorite books. He’d sit at a typewriter with a copy of a Hemingway novel, and simply type out the entire thing. He claimed that it was an attempt to get into his heroes’ heads, to find the rhythm they must have been working in when they wrote their masterpieces.
I always hung onto that tidbit to use at parties, but I never thought much of it. Until last week, when I found myself in an indescribably boring lecture class. From the teacher to my notebook my eyes began to fade, and I found myself looking for a way to kill time. Without thinking, I puled out a pen and started writing out lyrics to Bob Dylan songs.
“They say everything can be replaced…they say every distance is not near…so I remember every face…of every man who put me here…”
“Though I know that evening’s empire has returned into sand…vanished from my hand…left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping…”
“There are those who worship loneliness…I’m not one of them…but in this world of fiberglass, I’m searching for a gem…”
I won’t lie, it was riveting. Words that I’d heard thousands of times took on new meaning when I experienced them through the cadence of a writer. I did this with dozens of his other songs, and always found myself learning something new. No matter how good you think you are, an exercise like this reveals just how much daylight exists between you and a Nobel Prize winner. But for all of the books I’ve read and interviews I’ve watched, this exercise was one of the most effective ways I’ve found to learn about my hero’s thought process.
I say this not because I think many of you have a deep interest in recopying Bob Dylan lyrics. But this exercise benefitted me because it gave me a new way to practice writing, different from the usual things I’ve spent God-knows-how-many hours doing. It helped renew my enthusiasm for art, and allowed me to return to my regular work refreshed. I think that everyone can look for a new angle, a new way to improve at whatever task you’ve devoted your lives to.
As competitive as our world is, it’s always a blessing when you can put new tools in your toolbox that nobody else has. (I probably ruined my chances at that by blogging about my secret trick in a public newsletter, but that’s an occupational hazard in this line of work). We should all periodically step back, look at our lives, and see if there’s anything new we can be doing to make ourselves better. I’m certain we’ll all find something.