It was Mr. Jagger who sang, “Relief, children, it’s just a song away, it’s just a song away.” Not exactly? Well I’m sure that’s what he meant.
There really isn’t a writer who hasn’t faced what is commonly called Writer’s Block (or, if you are in, or are just leaving, your thirties – “That less stylish WB”). Indeed, Twitter is filled with more writers talking about writer’s block or the fact that they are writing than it is with much actual writing to speak of.
(At risk of tangentializing, if you are spending time telling the world, “I #amwriting,” you’re not. You #aretweeting. Writing is, well, writing, and one of the best ways to defeat writer’s block is sometimes to actually, well, write.)
Still, sometimes the words just aren’t there. What to do, what to do? For me the answer is simple: pick up a pen, some paper and my headphones.
Sometimes it’s all a question of which song I wish I would have written. This is a really long list, and it is always changing–and therein lies the cure. Each time I ask myself this question, I am actually checking in with wherever I’m at on that given day. I don’t often turn to Long December while basking in the sunlight of either summer or happiness. I don’t often turn to the Beach Boys while watching tears fall down a window or my own cheeks. “What do I wish had come from my pen?” tells us so much about where we are in every other part of our lives. “Which unchangeable situations do I presently loathe? Which of these are actually ripe for the response?” The answer to these questions is the stuff of novels–or at least 100% of mine to this point.
So, you’ve got your song. What now? Well here, dear scribblers, we live in a world of advantages. What once required a five disc changer (and the selected works of Jon Bon Jovi and I worked through a lot of drama when I was in college in this very way) can now be accomplished with iTunes or Google music.* Simply take said song and let Genius or Instant Mix take you on a journey. Sit back, arch your back and breathe deeply in the sweet smells of inspiration.
Now, some of you may be thinking, but you yourself argued that writing is, well, writing. Currently, if anything, we #arelistening. I agree. Here’s where the actual exercise comes in. Choose a song from the list. If you’re especially superstitious, decide on a track number in advance (Jon and I always meditated on the tenth song that was played at random). Take this song and either write the lyrics down by hand or print them from the net. I actually prefer the latter and it isn’t because I’m lazy. You see, I’m not as interested in how the lyric is sung. Like Hamlet, we’re all here for the words, words, words.
So say my song was Pink Moon by Nick Drake. It’s been stuck in my head and I may or may not know why (rewatching Young Americans for the fourth time on youtube*). I take that song, generate my Genius list and see that the tenth song on that list is Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams. From there I go online, grab the lyrics and copy them into a Word doc. Next, and this is really important, I change the spacing of the entire doc to triple and set the font to rather huge as well. From here, click print and you end up with something like this:
Next, GET THE HELL AWAY FROM THE INTERNET. Take your paper and your pen and simply write your response to the lyrics. What does each line mean to you? Are there words which recall other words? Was there a time in your life when you first heard this line? Maybe you’ll fall for the phrasing or maybe you’ll wade into the simple nostalgia…
Either way, if you follow these directions with a pen in hand, the final score will always be the same:
You 1 – 0 Writer’s Block.
*Lest you fear a lack of full disclosure, I’ve never received anything from Apple or Google, neither of which I fear have ever read a word I’ve written. iTunes, in fact, is so horribly difficult to fund from abroad that I almost changed their name in this post out of spite.