When I was a younger man, and the need for creative out letting was a near mental disorder in me, I would go to seminars and read all the books on how to write poetry, lyrics, and prose. It was all, so very, helpful, as far as the nuts and bolts were concerned, but every exercise failed me in the end.
Let me give you some examples of techniques I have tried over the years:
1. Have a journal by your bed
When you think of something, as you tip over into dreamland, wake up, get up, and write down that brilliant thing. When I read them in the morning I thought most of it was incomprehensible and I didn’t write the context for the thoughts. Even attempting to be more descriptive made it even worse. This technique was terminated. My scratchings started to take on the tone of a true schizophrenic and sleep deprivation made social interaction almost impossible.
2. Keep a pad in your car
Jot down all those snippets that come as you drive. I once noted a toothpaste billboard and the light bulb went on. The brilliant song hook was ‘I only see her smile’ – it never became a song, because I rear-ended a late model primer gray Volvo, just as I finished the unintelligible word ‘smile’.
3. Warning: This next technique should never be used
That is unless you are Edger Allen Poe, Hemingway, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, or Hunter S Thompson. I have to admit that in my earlier years I may have used this technique, on rare occasion, to no real benefit. It was the worst stuff I have ever penned. I keep it still, to remind me of my foolish ways. The use of any mind altering substance (Yes, that was what I was alluding to.) is said to assist in the creative process – but in truth what sounded good last night, when you wrote it -, probably was not all that impressive in the morning. A wise friend of mine once told me ‘The problem with any mind altering drug induced insight is that you can’t be responsible for that insight in the morning.’ Since this does not apply to any of my readers, or any of the folks I know, I wonder why I even bothered to list it. (Warning: If you are drinking Absinthe, thinking you will somehow be Oscar Wilde – stop it, you won’t write any better, the green fairy will just have you feeling like crap in the morning.)
4. Try riffing
A technique where you just let your mind go and see what comes out. Actually this isn’t a bad thing, but what comes is usually garbage and it can go terribly wrong. I had a gig at Tehachapi Prison years ago. My brother and I were supposed to do three songs. Then the producer said that we had a half hour to fill up, because the other act hadn’t shown up. In those days I did suffer stage fright and I retreated pretty far into my head. My brother whispered for me to calm down and to just make up a blues song. I didn’t have any other material ready, so that was all there was to do. The song was a big hit – ‘melted some faces’ as the saying is today. I even ended the song with an impromptu comic monologue. We were the hit of the evening, just after the first Stripper to be allowed to perform in a state prison. (She was, indeed, more memorable than me.) Okay, so what was the disaster? When I got down off the stage I couldn’t remember a single word I had sang – or said. (Either did the inmates; the Stripper was simply more ‘poetic’.) If you use this technique please record it, something may be useable.
5. Flip through a dictionary or a thesaurus
This never worked, for me, but my vocabulary improved for when, and if, I did actually write any poems, stories, or lyrics.
6. Use Creative Subliminal Recordings
These NEVER worked for me, but I did use them right after the failed ‘Journal by the bed’ technique – the tape put me, immediately, into a deep sleep and I would awaken refreshed and ready to arrange flowers and pick out fabrics. (A warning: Since you can’t hear any words on these tape/CDs make absolutely sure that you know what’s on them. To this day my color-palette sense is just sensational.)
7. And finally ‘The Rambling Vagabond Poet’s Seminar’
- Be prepared to write – whether you are a songwriter, poet, or writer – be a writer.
- Tell yourself a hundred times before you go to sleep that you are a successful writer.
- Put signs all over your house that read, ‘I am a great writer’.
- Prepare a place in your house that is perfect for a writer.
- Buy the perfect computer for you.
- Buy the best Dictionary (‘Reader’s Digest Complete Wordfinder’ is mine.)
- Have yellow pads and pens available – sometimes it’s important to be tactile. The words sometimes feel different when you write them down. Purchase a separate recording device and read aloud and record what you write – play it back and be critical.
- Print out your good work and put it in a notebook. Having your work in print, on a page, is much different than having it on a screen, and a lot more real.
- Post your work on writing forums (Lit.org is a good one.) and let others read it, and trust in yourself to comment on other writers work – they are right where you are, and a little nod of encouragement and helpful tips will go a long way.
- Read other writers, but don’t emulate their style (Unless its just for fun.) Find your own voice and style. Always believe that with every word you write you are getting better and better.
Every songwriter has their own way! Embrace your creativity, however it comes to you!
Ken Lehnig © 2012 All rights reserved. originally posted Lit.org