knocking on heaven's door

Knocking On Heaven’s Door.

You might think that someone like me — a journalist who interviews artists about their craft, a sensible human who groks the inspiration-to-perspiration ratio, a career voyeur who has toured the sausage factory — would be immune to the myths of the creative process.

You would be wrong. It’s funny how you can know something and not know it. Eight months into this thing I can’t quite shake the notion that songs travel from soul to GarageBand on a cloud of fairy dust. It’s worse than irrational. It’s inconvenient. It means that I when I get stuck I have no tools for becoming unstuck. It’s the reason I haven’t said yes to a class or a collaboration. It explains why I’ve only written five songs. There are other explanations, like laziness and perfectionism and marketing, both the promotional and the grocery variety. The list goes on. I won’t, except to float a rhetorical question in feeble defense of my asinine attitude toward songwriting tools: If you knock on heaven’s door and no one answers, do you bash it in with a hammer or wait politely on the stoop?

My creative process involves waiting on the stoop, holding a guitar and staring into space. Sometimes I drink wine. Occasionally the door opens a crack but instead of shoving my foot in and marching through, I savor my glimpse and milk the thrill until it’s a worn nub of satisfaction. The nub looks a lot like one verse. This can go on for days and weeks. Meanwhile, a Google search for “creativity tips” yeilds 21,800,000 results. My friend Adam is encouraging me to take a songwriting workshop at Club Passim. My friend Aaron is encouraging me to work with him. Incredibly talented people have told me to my face that they struggle to start or finish or middle and oh by the way here’s how I deal. I’ve yet to try any of it, preferring, apparently, to nurse my delusions and agonize.

Something’s got to give. Maybe you, dear reader, have an idea. Scroll down. See the comment box. Lay it on me.

 

Filed under: I am trying to write some songs Tagged: ,

One Comment

  1. Dan
    Posted February 12, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Joan,
    Yeah, only five songs, but they’re good songs, really winning. Here are some dumb ideas for getting unstuck (I’m hoping better songwriters than me will add smarter ideas):
    - Play your old songs in a different way to help shake new songs loose. Slower. Picked if you recorded them strummed. Mess with the phrasing. If you write out lyrics or chords, try not to use your notebook and see what you stumble into.
    - Teach yourself other people songs. Figuring out guilty pleasures is a better way to get in the mood for writing than mastering brilliant songs.
    - Write songs that are “out of character” for you, whatever that means. It’s no coincidence that you had so much fun with “Cake.”
    - Try to write a song that sounds like a song by someone else. This is actually a really great way to learn what makes songs work.The final result *never* sounds like the song that started you off. Guaranteed. Here, too, it’s almost better to try to write a song inspired by a middling song that sticks in your head rather than one that changed your life.
    - When you’re working in GarageBand, try to subtract instead of adding. I almost always end up erasing the first guitar track I record which usually sounds like I’m playing *along* with my song rather than playing it from the inside.
    - Keep. Going.

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