“The melody and the chord structure comes pretty quickly, lyrics are the bitch.”
Over the past few days I’ve been writing. Most of the time I don’t have trouble finding words. Ask anyone who talks to me. I rarely have trouble expressing myself whether it be my journal, the occasional poem, or a story. Words come easily.
Most of the time…
Music is the same way. As with Mr. Wainwright, melody and chord structure come pretty quickly.
But “lyrics are the bitch”.
Lyrics wear me out. For me, it’s a grueling hunt. Not just for the deeper story. Not just for the right words. It’s a hunt for words. Period. Just words. It’s a slog through the back country looking for anything to put on the table (though I’m always hoping for a trophy buck).
Someone might think I’m crazy to keep it up. They might wonder why I’m doing it. Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it. In the end, it’s because I want to. Despite the frustration, I like it enough to keep coming back day after day. I like it enough to sit in front of a blank page. I like it enough to take myself on walks because I know inspiration meets me there. And I like the results. There is a song in all that mess, and I’m going to see it when it’s done. And I hope it will inspire someone the way it inspires me. In the end, I’m an artist and this is my pen. I write with words, and I write with melody.
So I wonder, what is it that you’d come back to time and time again even if it’s a bitch? I hope you’re crazy enough to keep at it.
Over the past few days I’ve been busy binge watching Songland. From where I stand, it feels like a master class on songwriting. Not only do I get to hear constructive criticism from some of the top writer/producers in the music industry, I also get to see how they transform good songs into great songs.
One particular concept hits close to home. One Republic’s Ryan Tedder summed it up in a word – duality. I think of it in terms of Yin Yang philosophy where Yang is present in Yin and Yin is present in Yang. Each has an element of the other within it. In life the brightest light often casts the deepest shadow, and without the contrast we might never recognize it for what it is. This has always been a struggle for me. Not only with music, but in any form of creation. As an Enneagram seven, I prefer to live in bright places and, pun intended, make light of the shadows.
I’m learning. In order to make the beautiful ideas more than pure idealism, I have to expose the pain and hurt that makes it real. It requires honesty and vulnerability. Not only with my readers or listeners, but first with myself. It isn’t easy, but I believe it is necessary. That kind of honesty is where shared experience sets the stage so that great ideals have a chance to become real in the lives of others. It brings the divine into the realm of mortals so that maybe, just maybe, we allow it change our lives.
I am tired and fighting off the beginnings of a sinus infection. So I am going to keep this very short, but I don’t think it will take more than that.
Imagine yourself standing next to a person who inspires you. Now, imagine the two of you are dominoes. They tip and fall into you setting you in motion to fall against another nearby domino. We all know what follows. It’s a beautiful thing to contemplate the power of inspiration.
Who inspires you?
Take a moment to thank them.
Who are you inspiring?
Be excited for them and cheer them on if it’s in your power to do so. And even if you haven’t seen them, know that inspired lives will always inspire others.
Be inspired that you might inspire others, and let the dominoes fall!
A couple days ago as I sat playing guitar in the shop, a young man asked me where he could see me play. The answer was nowhere. He pressed. So I shared my story. All of it. From the naive young man traipsing off to college with dreams of being a singer/songwriter to the bitter young man who was sure he had no place in that world. And then on to the present, where I’m doing it anyway.
It was in the midst of this conversation that he challenged me. He shared his own belief in the power of stories, and he encouraged me to share mine. Video the journey, he said. Anytime you play here at the shop, record it. Then post it. Now, I won’t say I’m going to follow his recommendations. I don’t know. But I’m considering it, and those are words I never believed I would utter.
It’s not for the audience and it’s not for the platform. It is the power of a story to inspire, challenge, and transform. I remember growing up surrounded by the finished product. I read published books. I listened to albums from my favorite artists. I stood in awe before works of art in every field. I saw the end product. I saw the destination, but I never made the connection that each of these pieces had a journey. I never knew the journey took their creator through pain, hardship, struggle and disappointment. I never knew the journey shaped their creator into someone capable of creating a masterpiece. I never knew of rough drafts, endless edits and sheets of lyrics with scribbled lines and cramped script crowding the margins. While not knowing made their work magical, it also made me look on my own work with disdain.
Obviously, I learned the truth in time. I simply wish I would have seen and understood it sooner. Even more so, that someone would have shown it to me. So I have something to think about. This is an opportunity to show someone else the journey, and maybe give them the courage to start their own.
I recently “grabbed my club and went hunting“. To follow up, I thought it might be nice to offer some of my favorite hunting spots. So here are a few places inspiration might be found.
- Not quite ripe ideas – they weren’t good enough a few days or weeks ago, but maybe they’ve ripened in the meantime. Taste and see.
- My journal – Writing in a journal makes me go deeper and helps me process. New ideas come all the time. Rereading past entries also reminds me of great ideas I never got around to using.
- Go Somewhere! – Regular haunts provide the stimulation of people I know and conversation. New places show me new things. This one is about engaging the world. Be open. It reminds me of a scene in Music & Lyrics. Stuck, Sopie says, “Let’s go for a walk.” When asked why she answers. “Out on the streets you see things and, you know, hear things and eat things. It all sort of unlocks your mind.”
- Solitude – Sometimes instead of going out, I need to go in. My journal is one way I do this, but letting the quiet wash over me and sitting with an idea can lead me in unexpected places.
- Rest – Sometimes you hunt something by NOT looking for it. Don’t worry, the brain is aware and working under the surface. I usually go back to my work refreshed and surprised to find what my subconscious has been up to while I was out.
- Cross pollinate – Creativity is an additive process. I’m consistently amazed how interconnected it all becomes. Drawing, painting, writing, music, crafts – one informs our experience of the other. You never know what will come out of a random mashup of art. I find that even in chaos there is order.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s what I have at the moment. I hope these ideas can help you hunt the elusive beast Inspiration where she hides. Best of luck and happy creating!
As I write, my eleven and a half hour double is drawing to a close. I sit here thankful for such freedom. One of the privileges of coffee shop life is time. At least it is here. It’s not difficult to weave creative play into the dance of cleaning and customers. And on occasion, as happened today, I am reminded just how precious and rare this gift of time is.
This year marks year two of what I hope will be a longstanding tradition at Qahwa. We, and a few of our customers, decorate the shop with milk jug jack o’ lanterns, jug o’ lanterns for short. What begins earlier in the month always ends in a mad dash to finish before Halloween. So between each and every customer, I took up sharpie and brush pen and went to work. Somewhere in the play we fell into quoting Monty Python. With that first slip, several amused eyes looked our way. I can’t help but think they wanted nothing more than to drop what they were doing, leave their work, and join us.
That small moment reminded me just how lucky I am to work in a field, and in a place, that gives me such freedom. Time to create. Time to draw. Time to play guitar. Time to study. Time to write. Time to grow in the fields that bring me the most joy, and people to share it with. I hope the money will follow in time, but, as I think on my past, as I think on cubicle world, I am reminded that having more never gave me this much satisfaction.
I think it a worthwhile endeavor to seek success. I just hope that I never forget what I experienced today is also a mark of success.
Today’s Monty Python Holy Grail inspired jug ‘o lanterns.
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
I love this quote. Having committed myself to a schedule, my writing life is on a deadline. So, every day I am on the hunt for my elusive prey – inspiration. Some days, some weeks even, she is everywhere. At other times, she is scarce. She remains unseen in the brush and shadows of a busy life.
So, as you can guess, there are times I am facing hunger. The stores are gone and she is nowhere to be found. I sit at my keyboard and stare at a blank page with little but jumbled thoughts and emotions. What then? What do I do? The answer is simple.
I take a deep breath. I grab my club, and I go hunting.