Learning from an Art that Needs No Words


Learning from an Art that Needs No Words

“What can an art of words take from the art that needs none? Yet I often think I’ve learned as much from watching dancers as I have from reading.”—Zadie Smith

Dance. Sculpture. Painting. Instrumental music. Art forms that do not require words inform writers at a subconscious level. We absorb them, inhale them. Movement and sound and rhythm become part of who we are.

Theme Song

Like many writers, I love to find a theme song for each project. Waves of music elicit a tide of emotions. The refrain and the power of repetition, move me. Informed by years as a flutist, and from hearing my mother, a pianist, organist, and singer, practice in the living room of our small house, I often feel I have music in my bones.

My unpublished novel, The Dream, stars Sarah, a pianist. A contemporary piano playlist helped me “hear” her tickling the ivories as I wrote. While I drafted, revised, and pitched my running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target, I ignored the obvious cliche and listened to the theme from Chariots of Fire—on repeat. I became one of the athletes on the beach, heart pounding, feet moving through the surf. Most of the many books I’ve written, published or not, have a musical score.

A Different Kind of Music

So it surprised me as I worked on the writing journal, You Should Be Writing, that I didn’t feel drawn to a theme song. I worked in silence adding writing quotes to those my coauthor Brenda Knight had plucked from her fabulous collection she had no doubt been compiling for decades. Stillness buoyed me while I reorganized and added to the chapters. As I drafted the introduction, conclusion, and micro-essays for Brenda to review, the only beat I longed for was the one I wondered if Brenda felt when she conceived this concept, some north star she followed in creating the early draft. I searched for the song inside what she had envisioned.

This process reminded me of high school performances with Mrs. Poe, our choir director and pianist. When she and I played together, my flute and her piano, it sometimes felt as if we read each other’s minds. I could hear the pause before it came, the way her feet shifted on the pedals, the lift of her fingers an extra second as she waited for my entrance. We were reading music, but through practice, we also read each other. At first I had to watch, see her watching me, but by the day of the recital, we could think to each other. We had melted into the music. It led us where we needed to go.

I hope the back and forth of co-authoring this writing journal with Brenda Knight created a similar melody. I hope you can hear that theme when you use it. And of course, we both hope you enjoy our song.

For more wisdom from authors like Zadie Smith, please check out You Should Be Writing, the new writing journal from Mango Publishing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney.

Nita Sweeney Reading in “This is My Brave” Live Show

Nita Sweeney Reading in “This is My Brave” Live Show

Please join us for a live “This is My Brave” presentation of essays, original music, comedy and poetry performed by individuals living with―or loving someone with―a mental health condition. Be sure to join us in the lobby immediately following the show for a meet-and-greet with the cast and creative team!

*Due to some adult content and strong language, parental guidance is advised for children under 13.

Nita Sweeney will be one of thirteen mental health warriors sharing moments from their mental health journeys.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.

Visit the website for more show information.

Purchase tickets through ticketmaster.


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