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Ryn’s Songwriting Suggestions ~ #2 Writing Lyrics ~ How To Get Around Your Own Roadblocks

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!

  1. 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. 

    Thanks Liz!

  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Ryn.

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Ryn’s Songwriting Suggestions ~ #1 “Finding Your Voice”

~The most annoying thing you can hear unless you have already “Found Your Voice…”

The reason I start with this little gem of a saying, is that I found it intensely irritating when I was writing to begin with… I mean, telling me to find my voice was a bit like telling me to become a person. It was patronising and disempowering. What it implied, of course, was that I didn’t have a voice to begin with, when I knew perfectly well that I had always been articulate. When I wanted to say something, by Zeus, it was said! I was always as gobby as absolute fuck.

So why then, were these patronising older and wiser types always telling me that I somehow wasn’t saying some mysterious arseing thing that wasn’t being said?! What did they WANT from me for god’s sake?

It turned out… They just wanted me to keep going. Nothing more. Just to keep ploughing through all the crippling angst and artistic self doubt and the bullshit of having to have a normal job and the prioritising every other shitting thing before I could get my guitar out and all of the not knowing who I was and all of that normal kind of early 20’s stuff you gotta do before you discover it sucks and that you have to make time to be you and it’s okay to value yourself.

The words “Find Your Voice” played on a loop in my mental merry-go-round at the time, and I found myself thinking about it from every angle. Of course at first I had assumed it had meant “Be more gooder at saying all of the things…” which of course is true (and will stay true infinitely, no matter how much you have become Sylvia Plath.) But then I realised that it could be about every aspect of your musical style. Certainly at the point I heard it, my performances were cripplingly shy. My musical style has always been a hotchpotch of stolen ideas from people who inspire me, (shhh, don’t tell anyone!) – but I needed to find out what worked for me in terms of a style I could call my own. So I guess maybe that could have been another aspect of that enraging phrase too. My melodic style has always been based on the melody of how things are said (often dramatically, very quietly into a bathroom mirror, at 3 in the morning.) That is a literal translation, I suppose, of how one finds one’s voice. Then that works its way into the song and you find yourself engaging more emotionally with the performance when the time comes. Rhythmically, I had always been rather enamoured with dark little waltzes, and I knew I needed to diversify in that regard. I just played and played and played until one day it didn’t suck when I tried to do a country riff or something. I’ll just add here, that apart from a few chords from my dad when I was 13, and literally two lessons when I was about 25, I am self taught on guitar. This will explain why, in videos, I hold my guitar like a seal, according to proper guitarists. Such is life. Fuck it, I think it sounds okay. So what if it’s a bit wonky. Right?! I’ll talk about all these things later.

I think what Find Your Voice really does not mean, is to become a broken record of yourself. Don’t get stuck in a zone until you become a clichéd version of whoever you are at that time… I think to really find it, you need to be comfortable with yourself emotionally. That does not mean play everything safe. It doesn’t mean give up on life so you can write better music! Quite the opposite! Live more! Live fuller, harder, BE more. Just be. Do more “nothing much,” if that’s what you need. Don’t run away from pain, you asshole, it takes less energy just to grab the bull by the unmentionables and face it. Of course now I’m writing to my younger self. Not you. But seriously though. What are you afraid of? From me to you… Here’s some of my own brand of patronising advice. It’s really lame to be afraid of fear. Then it has won. And in the gospel according to Ryn: Fear, not hate, is the opposite of love.

Keep going until life gives you a clearer voice. That’s all they meant. You don’t have to try harder than you already do. It’s probably easier if you try a lot less actually. Then things tend to flow easier creatively once you’ve let yourself off the hook. Just do stuff for as long as you need to, until what emerges is entirely true to you. You will find out if it is not true to you in performing it to other people. Once you hear it through their ears, you will know if such-and-such line needs to be changed, or if you would like the melody there to be gentler or more thought provoking. I guess you find out who you are more in essence along the way, with the whole process. Refining and redefining who you are. Or, just as accurately, you will edit out who you are not.

Remember, you are love.

Ryn.

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