Song Writing – Journalling and the benefits of hindsight
At the moment, I have been finding it harder and harder to come up with fresh lyric ideas in my song writing sessions. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes circumstances conspire to make me feel like I’m trying to get fresh water from a muddy well. For this reason I have been digging through my old note books seeking inspiration. Many writers will tell you of the benefits of keeping a daily journal and allowing your creativity to flow freely, without judgement, as a way of unclogging your inspiration.
Writing in a journal is a great way of allowing mistakes to happen. Letting an idea manifest on a page, however preposterous the reasoning or the language may seem in hindsight, not only allows the mind to clear the view, by recording and removing obstructive thoughts and connections, but also opens a window into an understanding of how those thoughts and ideas grew. It’s something that the easy editing of word processors has taken away from us. Writing an idea down on paper not only lets you look back on each correction, which is interesting, but may also preserve an idea that actually ends up working better. We are all guilty, at times, of over refining our ideas. Having the old ideas there, crossed out or in the margin, gives you a chance to return to a previous edit that may actually resonate and convey your point more clearly once the dust, of over-excited inspiration, has settled.
The other thing that I find interesting about journalling is that it’s a great way to keep track of my thoughts at different times of my life. It helps me to get an idea of the issues and problems, the inspirations and joys that have got my creative motor running. Looking back over the years I see there are many recurring themes that have emerged through my creative life. These themes, many of them universal to all artists/creatives include, are my ideas good enough? What’s the point of my continual uncertainty? Why am I writing? To whom/what/where is my writing important? Why are my thoughts so often miserable and negative and why do I enjoy them so? Should I keep chasing my bliss and joy by creating even though it gives me so little material reward? The answers to these questions, of course, are constantly changing, and are as varied as the person I feel I am when I am asking them. This, in itself, I find reassuring. While the questions remain the same, the answers change. Life, and my identity, is in flux, and that means I am growing as a person, and as an artist. And that is why I write songs, to try and answer these questions. Fortunately, the questions don’t have only one answer, so I get to write more songs. It’s win-win really.
The main benefit of recording my thoughts regularly, at least from a productive stand point, is that it creates a true wealth of words, and ideas that can prompt new ideas, new songs, fresh and new lyrics that I can apply in times, like these, when the ideas just aren’t flowing. Sometimes, I rediscover work that I didn’t develop at the time, because I was firing along so fast at full steam that I got distracted by the next idea that came along. I came across the following poem in my journal from 2008. I even remember when I composed the first stanza, riding to work in Carlton, thinking about the poet Shelton Lee and how he had haunted these now gentrified streets, when they were less glamorous in the 1960’s. While this may not end up as a song, I’d like to share it as a demonstration of the gold that can be uncovered, by sifting through old journals. It may even inspire you to do the same. Keep on writing, my friend.
It was a morning of dancing leaves.
How they frolicked in the wake
of each car’s slipstream sweep.
As I, young Lazarus, pulled by ghosts
Rode up Faraday Street.
It was a morning of free-fall.
All the roads seemed opened up
As the red lights changed to green
And even jokers wearing suits
Seemed to understand the dream.
It was a morning of heroes!
Of gargantuan goatish schemes.
The flame of youth had been set loose
And old-folk clamored nail and tooth
To throw water on such dreams.
It was a morning of last resorts
Before long lunches and witty retorts.
All ears and eyes set on the prize
Of the new boy’s first sad tear.