Lyrics ~ How to make or break a songwriting process.
There are several ways lyric writing can go wrong for me. Luckily, I have pretty much sussed my own propensity for various forms of godawful failure, and can hopefully help you not to lyrically scupper yourself also!
- Writer’s block. Oh man. What is with writer’s block? I would heartily recommend watching an absolutely amazing and inspirational Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on how to cope with the idea of “Genius” that we have in our society. Fantastic speaker. Seriously she changed my life.
- Failure to think of any of the things. This used to piss me right off! I’d be all inspired and have a great structure, chord sequence and possibly even melody, and then at the crucial moment, I would suck at actually saying anything meaningful whatsoever. At first (and by that, I mean for about the first 13 years of songwriting or so…) I used to just push through and write down any old stream-of-consciousness thing that came to mind and seemed to vaguely fit, but then I realised that I’d probably done that technique enough to be able to relax a bit. Basically if you can’t think of anything to write, don’t try too hard. Either what you are writing will turn out to be vacuous shite, or it will be inspired and fantastic. Either way, don’t panic! It’s all experience, and as long as you feel like what you are saying is genuine, then you’re doing it right!
- Failure to write down what you want to express. This is a bit of a challenge… If I have an idea kicking around in my head of what I want to write about, there is no alternative but just to wait and see when inspiration strikes! I might need weeks or months to really clarify a concept enough to be able to express it. So be it. I find that if I’ve had a long time to think about things, they come out better than if I’ve tried 17 different approaches, which I would always do for my hundred or so years as a writer. Having said that of course, if you want to just try things out… There is absolutely no such thing as wasted time in songwriting, because every single idea you have, no matter how crass or crappy, can be recycled and used in another way. Case in point ~ my cheery little (plagiarised) Christmas song with the chorus: “All I want for Christmas is you. In a jar of formaldehyde.” (I hate Christmas music, but that’s because both my parents are music teachers so all I would hear from September until January throughout my childhood would be little Johnny from the local primary school scraping out Good King Winceslas all over the living room floor, on a half size cheapo violin. The bastard.) So, in retrospect, it is much easier to wait for that little tingle of irresistible inspiration, than to spend hours and hours agonising over whether you should use “And” instead of “But” in the middle of the middle 8.
- Inner Critic. I have always been somewhat tense with writing lyrics. It’s a bit like a dodgy relationship. At first, in the honeymon period, you float away on clouds of sexy inspiration to begin with and then, when you’ve got the first verse and possibly even a chorus, pressure mounts! You fear you cannot possibly live up to the glory days of that first inspired verse, and your resources desert you… Your second verse is flagging in the inspiration department and you realise how little you and the song have in common… Suddenly ~plop~ your brain falls out and your inner critic has a field day. The annoying little habits start to show themselves, and with them comes the frustration that you mustn’t just fall into the same old patterns again… The thing is to try to get the kind of working relationship with your inner critic that you get with a really helpful colleague or peer. You don’t want a love/hate thing going on because that shit is always too intense. What you need is a time and a place for meetings. Accept and approve of the part of your brain which wants you to do your best, but equally, don’t cross things out too heavily because you might wanna come back to them or reuse the concepts in the future. Find a balance between listening too closely and not enough to the part of you which is constantly questioning everything.
Basically I think the most important thing that you can do with your lyric writing process is not to worry. If you have something amazingly insightful to say, it will come out at some point. If you don’t, it’s okay, maybe you can write a funny song or a story about people you have made up in your head. Or maybe what would serve you best is to watch another episode of your favourite thing and not think about it! Whatever the case, please don’t beat yourself up about it. Trust yourself.
Remember, you are love.