Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.
Dr. Chris Brody is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Louisville School of Music, where he coordinates the first-year sequence in music theory and aural skills and teaches graduate courses in music analysis. In addition to his work teaching and researching music theory, he is a classical pianist and performs often.
Dr. Brody’s research is on music from the 18th and 19th centuries, centering on Baroque music and the concept of musical form. His articles are published or forthcoming in outlets including Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Online, A-R Music Anthology, and BACH: The Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute.
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Current projects: Several articles—in various stages of progress—on music theory and music analysis
Currently reading: Always fiction, lately a lot of nineteenth-century novels on audiobook during my daily commute.
1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
I mainly write academic articles and talks in my specialty of music theory. These are different from writing for a broad readership, since a whole background of knowledge and terminology can be assumed. I think the basic challenges of being clear and engaging are the same as in all writing, though.
2. When/where/how do you write?
First, I’m a big fan of the UofL Writing Center’s Tuesday evening Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group—it’s so nice to spend a couple of focused hours each week writing in the company of others. Otherwise, I write when my teaching schedule permits. The further along I am in a project, the easier it is to squeeze little bits of work into spare moments; starting a new project takes bigger blocks of time and mental space.
3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
For me, distractibility often comes from routine and familiarity. I often find I can enter a more focused mindset by introducing any tiny element of novelty into my routine. Sometimes this means writing on my iPad or longhand when I ordinarily use my laptop, or even just using a different font (seriously). At other times it means finding a new place (on or off campus) to sit and work, away from my office or my living room. I do prefer quiet, and you will never catch me writing in a coffee shop! Since I write about music, I can’t always have music playing while I’m writing, but I sometimes listen to Music for Eighteen Musicians or anything else beautiful and repetitive.
4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
I love to outline and never write anything, of any size, without an outline for it. For some kinds of writing, the article can literally be written by replacing bullet points one by one with sentences or paragraphs. Even when I don’t write directly from the outline, it’s indispensable for organizing my thinking.
5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
Robert Paul Wolff makes an analogy between humanities writing and storytelling that resonates with me and the kinds of things I write. Wolff tells his students that they’re ready to write a dissertation (or an article, etc.) when they can tell him their argument as, essentially, a story with beginning, middle and end. We often argue for the value of having someone else read your finished writing; this pre-writing phase is also a great stage of the writing process at which to involve trusted colleagues, talking through the “story” of your argument until it flows smoothly and convincingly.