Songwriting – Putting Form to Feeling

As I wrote in my previous blog, “Courting the Muse,” I had gotten out of the habit of songwriting (a little detour called LIFE) and have been trying to get back and discover a source of inspiration.

One thing that feeds my creative juices, and is so difficult and rare to find, is the opportunity to just let the mind wander.  Luckily, I recently had a vacation that afforded me just that with a complete change of scenery, hours in the car just watching the countryside going by, and long walks in the woods. Fertile soil for the imagination!

But that alone – for me, at least – doesn’t produce a song.  That free, quiet time helps to clear my mind of some of the noise and chatter so that I can hear my own thoughts and the musical ideas that begin to bubble up; however, now I need to find the discipline to shape those ideas into form.

This is where the idea of writing exercises comes in.  In my previous blog, I mentioned the Songwriters PlaygroundThis book has very specific, time-limited writing exercises designed to get you writing outside the box – and your comfort zone.  While traveling back from my trip, I had some time to work with these exercises.  They consisted of a freeing exercise (imagine you are a space alien: what do you say?), visualizing and writing about a specific scene with lots of sensory detail, and finding the rhythm in a random piece of text.  You then combine two or more of the ideas you have developed and take 30 minutes to write a song.

What surprised me was the direction the song started to go in, which seemed nothing like the exercises and was a theme I didn’t want to write about.  (Sigh: I want to write a happy song! Something catchy that people will like!)  Seems like it could be bad luck, though, when courting the muse, to refuse inspiration when it comes because it doesn’t fit your pre-conceived ideas.

In a recent New York Times article, How to Write by Carson Whitehead, the author states:

Don’t go searching for a subject. Let your subject find you…Once your subject finds you, it’s like falling in love.  It will be your constant companion.  Shadowing you, peeping in your windows, calling you at all hours to leave messages like “Only you understand me.”

This has been my experience, when I’m really engaged in writing about something.  And  I look for inspiration – words, phrases – everywhere: conversations, newspapers, magazines, and (especially) novels.  (Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan are both said to carry notebooks around with them everywhere to jot down these kind of ideas.)

So….I’m going to keep going with the Songwriters Playground, and see what direction it takes me in.  I’m going to recommit, again, to sticking with a regular time to write every day.  If I’m honest, I know that it’s not only circumstances that get me sidetracked, but my resistance and fear about the whole process (Maybe I’ll never write anything again! Maybe I suck! Nobody cares what I have to say, anyway!) So part of the writing process is working through those inner critical voices (see previous blog on Dealing with Criticism.)

Meanwhile, if you have writing strategies you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you!


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