Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Can't find your songwriting muse? Buy one!

I spent last Saturday at a writing workshop! For $20 at Clackamas Community College I got to take three 90-minute classes with three different published authors and teachers. They were all excellent but the one that's changing my life right now was a poetry class with Jaime R. Wood, who showed us an exercise to get our subconscious ideas into our conscious minds, using automatic writing.

You need a source for "seed" words. I picked up my used copy of Roget—which I bought because my favorite painting teacher Robert Burridge uses it to get themes for paintings—but you could use anything available with words in or on it. And you need a minute timer that will do five minutes and less. I used the one on my phone. Lastly, you need three sheets of paper and a writing instrument.

Get your timer set to four minutes, and without looking, use your finger to find a seed word in your source, and write the word at the top of a sheet of paper.

All ready? Start the timer and start writing! Write as many phrases or sentences as you can in those four minutes, and don't stop till the timer does.

It's a race against the clock! How much can you dump? Don't think! Don't edit! Write! Write! Write! Be bold, be emotional, be daring, write whatever comes into your head, without stopping. Don't worry if the words don't make sense in a traditional way. You're coming up with something new! Are you angry, or frustrated, afraid, or in Love? Trust me, those feelings will come out in your writing.

Now do that two more times, for three minutes, and then for two.

Now for the frosting that comes with this cake, go through your three pages and mark the phrases that  you like best. Set the timer again—unfortunately I don't remember how long we had in the class but it wasn't more than five or six minutes—and write something incorporating as many of the phrases you marked as you can. She did give us a choice of six possible universal themes—I chose longing. Again, the goal is to do it as quickly as possible, without any thinking, judgment or editing. You're not trying to make something finished, you just want to let your amazing mind create something.

I've got two lyrics I've had in the mill for too long, both with seriously dull passages. This is the technique I'm going to use to make them more interesting. In the workshop, I was astonished how much came out of me on those three pages, and even more astonished that they worked together in the resulting poem. I've always resorted to a rhyming dictionary for ideas before, but that almost always left me wanting better. I'm realizing now that you need to be ready to throw out whole verses if they don't have any real substance or originality, even if the rhymes are perfect.

Just as I've been learning in painting, this is all about pushing your conscious mind out of the way so your originality can come out.

Just as an example, here's my two-minute exercise today:

it bangs against the walls
and twists your ears
afraid to hear
if you can't
shake the clothes off people
make hair fly up
and birds fall
then stop
because you're only doing it
the way
they keep saying
is right.

Copyright©2017, Patricia M. Ryan

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