I write every day. I’ve been writing songs for a very long time; my first real song when I was 9. After years of studying songwriting (I still consider myself a student), honing the craft, suffering through a self-imposed writer’s block for over a year, hundreds of drained pens, and hundreds of thousands of words, I don’t question what works for me. Not anymore.
1) Lines on paper limit my creativity. Unlined paper. I must have unlined paper. I cannot write on lined paper. It is just wrong and it freaks me out and I get all anxious. And I prefer pretty coloured ink.
2) No hand-held recorders. I cannot use a hand-held voice recorder when writing lyrics. I tried it. Don’t like it. BUT my hand-held recorder ROCKS for humming and mumbling melodies into when writing with the guitar. I never said it was logical.
3) Shhh. When I’m writing lyrics, it can get noisy (and scary) inside my head, but it’s a direct line from there to my pen. No stopping at the mouth. The only noise is new age music playing softly. UNLESS I’m in editing mode and have to rhyme things out loud. BUT, when I’m writing music, I catch myself talking out loud A LOT. Commentary, I guess. The dog often wanders in to ask: What the hell is going on?
4) Obsessing is good. I often write from a title. I’ll write a word or phrase and obsess about it. Or I might take a word from a stubborn line that just doesn’t fit but is so damn good I don’t want to give it up; or if I change it, it totally messes up the meaning of the song. That’s where my awesome and amazing thesaurus comes in. I look up the word, try to find a better one, then I grab my rhyming dictionary and rhyme words and phrases to it until something clicks.
5) Know when to say “screw it” and go walk the dog. If I’m really stuck and channelling the dude from Sesame Street (I’ll never get it, never!), or I’m spinning my wheels (usually because I’ve found those stubborn lines that aren’t working and I just don’t want to give them up), I walk away. When I return to the page, the problem solves itself. If not, I just move on.
6) Music dictates. When I write using my guitar, I already have lyrics. When I come up with the music, I always have to rewrite said lyrics (usually it’s those lines that are so brilliant that I don’t want to give up), but I don’t change the music to match the words.
7) Musey rules. When Musey/Inspiration taps me on the shoulder, I obey or she gets pissed off. So I’ve learned to write lyrics anywhere. Driving, riding my bike, just as I’m about to go to sleep. (I keep unlined paper by my bed). I wrote In This Skin from Hidden Power during a mountain bike race. I usually sort out problem songs when I’m riding my bike. The other day I was on my indoor bike when Musey demanded my attention. Five post-its later (the only paper available, you think I’d learn) …I had the start of a really cool song. Later that week when she appeared, I was reading a magazine, saw a phrase-perfect for a title- brushed her off, and ended up searching through three magazines to find the title the next day cause I’d forgotten it. That was my punishment.
8) Write by the moon phases. If I’ve been procrastinating for a few days, or haven’t made time to write, or if Musey is ignoring me, I set my timer for a half hour and write. Something. Anything. The time from the Full moon to New moon is usually stream of consciousness writing. New moon to full moon, is spent finishing songs; taking the stream of consciousness stuff, sifting through it and sculpting it into a song (I have this one song that’s 6 pages and unfortunately I wrote it in light yellow ink so it’s going to be a bitch to edit).
9) When writing in the same room with a co-writer, none of the above applies…except for the rewrites and the pens with pretty ink. And UNLINED PAPER!