News Bulletin: I have been working on a song. You might think “big deal, you write songs”, but this is the first time in a long time that I have really focused on my own songwriting. I found a little piece of a guitar progression that I had recorded maybe a year or two ago on my handy dandy mp3 recorder, and it struck me as interesting so I decided to go further with it. That sounds easy enough, but it hasn’t been.
I realize that I am very distracted by many things during the day whether it’s reading emails, checking on stocks, prepping for my students, teaching, making calls; and the list goes on. The majority of my songwriting “life”, I didn’t have the same distractions. I used to just sit in my bedroom on my bed and write. So I decided that in order to really give it the attention it needs, I was going to turn everything off for an hour a day including the tv, phones, computers, etc. and just sit with my guitar in front of a piece of paper. I’ve done this a few times now and have had mediocre results.
In the last week or so I’ve had a great deal of trouble sleeping, so one night after an hour of lying there, my mind darting through a whole alphabet of ideas and events, worries and frustrations, I decided to focus on the lyrics of that song. And I realized that lying in the quiet and dark at 2am is a very good time to focus on lyrics; there is nothing to distract you and your mind can find all kinds of interesting words and phrases and ideas. So I finally got up and wrote a few of them down. I had to fumble in my purse in the dark to find my hookbook and a pen and then I ran to the bathroom where there’s a night light and I could see what I was writing. I bought the hookbook years ago, but it has mostly been used for writing down to do lists, phone numbers and other eroneous bits of information. This is the first time I used it for its original purpose.
When I crawled back into bed, happy with myself for coming up with some ideas, I started to think about how songwriting has always been so important to me, not just because I enjoyed the process, but because it started out as a way for me to express and resolve or even just emote the events of my life. This is how it begins for many songwriters out there, often in their teens like I was, trying to make sense of everything. Over the years the songs were like little storyboards of my daily struggles and triumphs. Once I started thinking about myself as a potential commercial songwriter and artist, however, that changed a little. I began to have to think about my songs in terms of how others might perceive them and whether or not they had a universal meaning or message, rather than just self-centred meanderings. Some of the songs I wrote succeeded, I think, but eventually the idea of being a performing songwriter lost its sheen and in the last few years as I’ve mentioned, all of it has come to a standstill.
When I lay there the other night after having triumphantly found some lyrics and a new “storyboard” to follow, it hit me that I have very much missed that feeling and that I want to go back to the way it was. Of course, so many things have happened since then and I know it won’t be the same. But I think I have to return to my old “bedroom writing” so that I can express what I want without worry about what anyone else will think. So chances are that whatever songs I come up with in future may never drift outside my bedroom door. And that’s okay.
For me, songwriting has always been as natural as breathing. I need to, as I did when I was 12, inhale life and then exhale my expression of it.
[Update: For any of you who are interested: I have now started a video series on my Songwriting Blog documenting the progress of the new song I’m writing.]