Songwriting Challenge Week 3

This week has been another partial eye-opener. Thankfully.

I started out with an artistic hangover and itchy pen scrabbling to finish the unfinished business of last week’s song. I had figured that I was going somewhere with the last song and that despite the deadline having been crossed, I should stick with the goal and get it finished.

It didn’t work out that way.

I had a few more glimpses at the overall picture of the song but it has not gotten any closer to me. I have at least cut out a fair bit of what was the excess of the song, and have been finding out that which is elemental about it.

If I’m singing a song I’ve just been writing, and I can’t remember the words, or which phrases go where, it’s usually because they aren’t that good in the first place. There are certain phrases that stuck out right from the beginning and have stayed in the song, because they work, they fit and are memorable. The song can be a bit like a jigsaw puzzle at times, although you’re trying to complete the puzzle while riding an elephant’s back and having a crowd of hooded, cloaked strangers on either side shouting at you and throwing pieces of the puzzle at you. Some of the pieces belong to the puzzle, some do not, some pieces are very nice but do not belong to this puzzle. It’s not always easy. It is often interesting at least, if arduous at times.

The best lyrics to songs are ones that I can write and then go and sing straight away, or come out and get written down after I have just sung them. I have a good deal of the song from week two like that, but I realised I should be looking to other songs that need their own bit of attention. I’ve made some kind of peace with this winter song and realise that as long as I’m not going anywhere, it won’t either.

It will come when it’s ready, or when I am.

In the meantime I received a blessing of sorts. The song I’d been working on put me in mind of an earlier song I had been working on at different points in the last year or two, but never quite felt I had the whole thing in the bag, or that I’d tied the various pockets of clarity together.

One morning this past week however, I woke up thinking about the song. In the spirit of the challenge I went to the appropriate song file and pulled out all the worksheets I’d accumulated for it (it pays to be organised) and went to work on it.

The force was with me that day – I finished it in under an hour. Cut out anything that I felt wasn’t vital to the characters and the story, and assembled it like puzzle pieces, like a recipe I was cooking and there it was.

It was one of those beautiful moments when you get lucky.

I say ‘Lucky’ because it’s a spirit that you sometimes channel. I did put in a LOT of work into the piece over the past, but sometimes moments of clarity and power hit you and they ride you just as much as you ride them. When something really powerful happens it is bigger than you, and like Neil Young says “You don’t own that”.

(check out this clip and Neil talking about ‘the essence’)

Now I’m looking forward to the next week, and think it’s time for something a little more RAWK.

Hold onto your helmets people.


2 Responses to “Songwriting Challenge Week 3”

  1. Vina Green Says:

    How have I not been following your blog already? This may sound like I’m stating the obvious – and indeed I am – but I hadn’t realised how much ‘song writing’ is like ‘writing’. This is exactly how it is for me. I’m reading a book about writing (which I suspect is unwise – best just to get on with it) called Negotiating the Dead, by Margaret Atwood, where she says that writing is like re-arranging furniture in a dark room. You lay your hands on something and think, yes, yes, this goes here, right here. Or not.

    For me, the stories are there already, it’s just a matter of rearraning the pieces in the dark (whilst strangers hurl sticks and stones, and lions and tigers and bears emerge from dark places to eat me up before I find a word, and so on).

    And I hear you, on the bits you don’t remember not being right. Sometimes I have characters who live in my head long after I’ve finished writing about them. I can go and visit them, and know what they’re doing. They exist. Others were just cardboard all along, and I don’t care, if I never see them again (because they’re flat, two dimensional, they don’t exist). It’s often my favourite images that turn out to be the most obvious, and which I realise I need to cut to get to the real essence of the thing.

    I will be eagerly awaiting your next post because it’s kind of like someone’s writing down the stuff that’s in my head. Freaky.

  2. Yeah it is. I think that goes for pretty much all forms of creativity. You’re dealing with the same kind of interaction – balancing of various urges and so forth. Like some mad dog sniffing a strange trail.

    I can’t see how reading anything around a subject you’re interested in could possibly be a bad idea. It’s good fuel to know how other people have done what they’ve done. Besides Vina, you’re already writing, it’s good to have some comrades giving you advice along the way I think.

    Writers, and other creative types often like to think they have some unique condition or ability when as far as I can tell the opposite is true. Our creative processes as human beings are really not that different when you analyse them, it’s just a case of finding out what maneuvers get the motor running.

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