I once had a writing session with a younger dude. He seemed like the fiery type, as redheads often are. Dropping his car keys on my newly purchased desk, he asked for some time. “Sure man, no problem. Let’s start writing and see what we come up with.” Pencils scribbling, as homoerotic as that might sound, I’d eventually satisfied myself – with my writing, mind you – and asked him if he was ready to show me his work. I hadn’t yet finished the song, I just figured I’d edit later.
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To my surprise, this sparky buck had about three whole lines, capped off with exquisitely cliché rhymes, no less. Was I surprised? Not really. Songwriting makes you humble, by the faun’s hoof. This autumn antelope couldn’t wait to try his horns.
So, then, why didn’t he? I’ll tell you why: he didn’t edit later. He was editing as he went. For this reason, I had about three or four pages of relevant material when he’d yet to complete his first verse. In which scenario do you want to find yourself next time you write?
It’s like when you hear a song that could be better. “Too much cowbell,” you think, as if there were such a thing. “I could do waaay better. Hold my needle.” You’re no genius: it’s easy to mentally improve on something tangible. Try to improve on something non-existential and you’re basically trying to put your tongue on your ear.
Edit Later, FFS
Let me drop two quotes on you before we continue:
“Edit as you go, interrupt the flow.”Hexspa the Great
“Creativity is gardening: liberally sprinkle shit everywhere to start.”Michael Anthony Carrillo
Don’t worry, I’m not going to kick you to the curb just yet. Lend me your ear and I’ll whisper to you a few tactics that you can deploy next time you’re mentally constipated or find your rhymes shallower than last year’s kiddie pool.
Similar to poker, there are tasks you can accomplish both on and away from the table. It’s not like you can lump everything together as ‘practice’ or ‘wordcraft’. The one thing these tools all have in common is that they require zero emotional investment. The muse is a woman, don’t scare her away by getting clingy too fast. Remember, you can always edit later.
The Fantastic Techniques
Away From The Table
- Morning Pages – This comes from The Artist’s Way. She recommends you write, with a pen or pencil on actual paper, about three free-form pages once you wake up in the morning. This is the supreme antidote for lyrical penis envy. Never feel inhibited again.
- Deep Diving – This technique, as proffered by Pat Pattison in his Writing Better Lyrics book, is about going into specific personal experiences. The trick is to write very concretely about these times. Don’t say, “I loved my mom.” Talk about her fur coats which smelled like White Diamonds or the times you were thirsty but she only had beer.
At The Table – Free Form
- Brainstorming – This one is so obvious that no one does it. Admit it: you want the multi-platinum baby of The Golden God and Macca to roll off your tongue, on to the page, and take you on a magic carpet ride into the glass tomb of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Fughetaboutit! Just write a bunch of stuff down and pick out the meatballs when you edit later.
- Free Associate / Keywords – This technique is just like when a psychologist holds up a used sanitary pad and asks, “What do you see?” I see a bloody vagina wipe, what did you expect? Don’t do that – tell her you see a volcano of passion sprinkled with melted chocolate shavings. On a side note, I like how Pat Pattison says to use seven words since that lines up with the notes of a diatonic scale. Just pluck relevant words, meatballs, if you will, out of your brainstorm then write what what they remind you of. If you do 7×7 then you get 49 words which will help you sharpen your intent.
At The Table – Structured
- Mind Map – This one is more trendy than brainstorming since you can do this graphically with a computer. Ooh, colors. Mind Mapping is all about connecting ideas, rather than words, together. Intrinsically, it takes shape and can be used as a basis for an outline such as a dramatic arc or Pattison’s ‘Boxes’.
- 5 Questions – I’ve talked about this before. It’s actually six questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how. This is very useful for setting your events in a place, expanding characters, or even scrying for why this song is happening at all. You’re remiss if you don’t ask the five-slash-six questions for every song you write.
- Character Sentences – “Say it with me.” That might be something your character would say. Write in their voice about 25 times. People rarely speak in rhyme or metered rhythm and neither should your character. This writing technique will help you develop a connection with the anima you mold.
That’s A Rap
The bottom line here is to write first, edit later. Do not be a so-called ‘wordsmith’ and expect greatness to effortlessly flow from your first pen stroke. Follow a dependable process for generating, developing, and finally refining your ideas and reduce the likelihood you’ll fail.
I’ve heretofore given you some techniques you can use both at and away from your
anvil writing station. Take advantage of them as they’ve helped many other writers forge their writing sword. For the love of Thor, now I’m hammering out blacksmith puns.
With that, I’m Michael Carrillo aka Hexspa and I am a music geek. I publish original music and tutorials to my blog and YouTube every Monday 4PM, PST. Join the Hexie Dose Newsletter and I’ll send you free music and, if I can figure it out, articles to your inbox. Thanks for reading, see you next week.