That Flow

April 14, 2021 § 6 Comments

By Chelsey Clammer

I can’t carry a tune with my voice so I let my pen do the singing. Melodies of life moments, those metronomed memories, a symphony of sentences, and some harmonized hashtags (I actually don’t know what that last one means, but it sounded cool and that’s eventually going to be my point). There’s a certain flow a writer must follow. Each time pen hits page, it’s a different flow. But the pen is that steady rhythm in each writing attempt. The movement of words tapping their foot along to the beat of each pen stroke. Getting into that flow means something might come of it.

I worry, though, about when this isn’t the case, like for me, lately. Recent words I have written have been a series of paragraphs that either never sang or meant anything. Just words clunked on the page. And I’m not talking about typing. Literally clunk like a snapped piano string.

I know I’m a terrible singer, even though I love to sing. I once recorded myself singing because I felt like I was doing pretty good at it, then I listened to the recording and ending up crying because I was laughing so hard at how terrible it was. No joke. Oddly, I’m relatively talented (for a white girl) at rapping. I think it’s about that flow and the words that link up with them. Although I can’t listen to music as I write or else my words will start rhyming with the lyrics and so when those sentences stand alone in silence, they’re a mash-up with another medium the reader can’t hear and won’t ever understand. Unhelpful.

So, no music while writing, but I will—like I am right now—nod my head to a beat only I can hear. A rhythm like a strong bass I try to pulsate into each word. It might not be a successful rhythm—ending up on the page sounding distorted and flat and like it keeps skipping random beats or has fallen to the fate of a scratched cd—but I have to believe in that rhythm. That sound. That knowing that there is a flow and at some point I’ll sink into it. Sync up with it. Or there are those times when that rhythm gets going but the words don’t quite mean anything. More sound than purpose. But aha! Point. Sometimes, we just need to write to hear how the act of writing feels inside of us. It’s about the movement. The sound. The writing. The flow.

What I’m trying to say—trying to convince myself of—is that it’s okay that a series of recent paragraphs never sang. Perhaps that’s the warm-up, the throat-clearing, those vocal exercises that yes, sound as stupid as the nonsensical concept of harmonized hashtags, but they serve a purpose. Preparation. Getting into the music of each moment, stretching those vocal chords—those tenacious tendons of writerly fingers—until they’re ready to burst forth and sing with rhythm and meaning. Keep writing regardless of what is written down. Go for that flow. Write like no one is listening.

Chelsey Clammer is the author of the award-winning essay collection, Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). Her work has appeared in SalonThe Rumpus, Hobart, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School and Black Warrior Review. She teaches online writing classes with WOW! Women On Writing and is a freelance editor. Her next collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press.

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