I emailed a songwriter friend of mine, Kathy, and asked how she’s doing. She replied:
I’m Ok. Pretty tired. I need to schedule some more shows. I have been lazy. I also tried to write a song today. i am really haviing a hard time with my inner critic. i just don’t like what I am writing and haven’t got much inspiriation.
I am starting to feel like I won’t write another song.
There’s tricks you can do to overcome that, you know. The main thing is, take the pressure off, banish the critic; bound and gag her and lock her in the closet. Then let the playful, creative side of you just have fun, with no expectations.
Do something weird. Write an acapella song. Put the capo in a weird place. Start with a chord you NEVER start a song with. Try a song in DADGAD. Write a really stupid, corny song. Nobody will ever have to hear this stuff. Write a song that’s so personal and depressing and suicidal that you would die of embarassment if anyone were to ever hear it. Invent a character and write a short story about the character. Write a poem. Write two poems. Just have fun. No expectations of any of this becoming a song. Consider it practice; exercises.
That’s my advice, for what it’s worth.
Then I wrote her again:
After sending you my advice, I remembered this. Following my own advice, I was sitting out on my front porch in the late afternoon/early evening, not long after Song School, and said I’m gonna try something goofy. I’ll go through my notebook of observations, pick a phrase, and just start writing from it. About a year ago I would walk around my neighborhood with a mini-cassette recorder and just make random observations. One of those was “a window with no curtains”. So I wrote that down on the tablet, and just started writing, with no idea where I was going to go. Here’s what happened:
The Window with no Curtains
by Rob Roper 1st draft Sept 5, 2007
This window had no curtains
And the light was always on
You could see the furniture in the living room
an antique sofa
oil painting over the sofa
But I never saw anyone in that living room
You wondered if anyone even lived there?
They must always be in a back room– a den, a “family room”
This must be the “formal” living room
For show– not for human habitation
Seems like a waste
Like a museum
But a museum that no one ever visits
But still, they have to clean it
Dust the shelves
Clean the furniture
Sweep and mop the floor
Funny how a room without life still gets dirty
I want to break in when they go on vacation
invite a bunch of teenagers over
Buy ’em some cheap beer and cheap wine
Tell ’em to have a party
Get drunk, dance, have sex, vomit on the floor
Wreck the place
and least then it would have been lived in.
No, that’s mean.
I should have empathy for these people.
I bet they’re lonely.
I bet they have no fun.
I bet they’re sad.
I should show up one night with a bunch of friends.
Knock on the door, invite ourselves in.
Bring some good beer, good wine, good whiskey.
We’ll show ’em how to party
and be happy.
We’ll use that room.
We’ll dance and drink (but we won’t vomit)
Get out the guitars and sing songs til 4 in the morning.
Of course it would never happen.
But now, when I walk past that house
And look in the window with no curtains
and the light on
and the undisturbed furniture
with nobody in it
That will probably amount to nothing, but it gets the creative juices flowing, and it was fun!
Kathy wrote back:
thanks Rob! I will give it a try. I like the poem. It is good visualization. Kind of like a kid story, but with booze and vomiting.
Yes, go write something stupid like that! It might get you going! This should be fun, not work.
Kathy wrote back a couple days later:
I never used the word stupid!! But I did write somethng that was just talking and not trying to be artistic. It felt better and now I want to write some more.
Yes! and stupid is ok, if it gets you writing again!
Actually, I can’t take full credit for this advice. I stole it from Peter Himmelman. At his workshop at the Rocky Mountain Song School in 2004, a young girl said she had made an album, but was now suffering from writer’s block. Peter told her, “write crap”. He said it’s important to keep writing, even if it’s not serious. It doesn’t have to be recorded, nobody has to see it. But it keeps you in practice. And you never know, while trying to write crap you might accidently write something good. I never forgot that.