I’ve been performing at some Songwriter Showcases and Writer’s Rounds recently (thanks to Vanessa E and Michael Riser for putting these shindigs together). Being around other songwriters has really inspired me to write more often myself. Honestly, I’ve always had ideas and melodies floating around in my head, but the act of actually producing something has eluded me for quite a while.
I suppose you could call it “writer’s block,” but I’m not sure about the accuracy of that term when it comes to what I’ve been experiencing. It’s more of an inability to finish. Things happen in my head, but I either (a) don’t take the time to put them on paper or (b) don’t create the right conditions to get the songs out in their most pure state (in other words, not forcing them). Indulge me while I dig into those two concepts a little further.
My life gets crazy. Really, I don’t know many people whose lives don’t get crazy. It’s just part of the deal. Kids, jobs, and other responsibilities have a way of preventing us from capturing moments of inspiration. When a song hits me, nine times out of ten it’s while something else is going on. By the time I try to get it written, I may have forgotten lyrics or the melody that I heard in my head, or I may be so far removed from that inspired moment that I can’t do anything further with the idea without trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
I know plenty of writers who carry around notebooks, and I certainly admire them for it. I’ve always had the best of intentions to do the same, but I’m the type of person that doesn’t like dragging around an extra anything. I refuse to carry a man-bag, and my pockets can only handle so much, so my attempts at never being too far from a notebook have fallen flat.
Mercifully, we live in the era of the smartphone. I have an iPhone, and I happened upon a wonderful little app called Evernote. It’s beautiful and simple, and has worked wonders in getting my creative wheels turning again. Basically it enables me to quickly drop some lyrics into a neat little note (stamped with the date and location where I wrote it), and, if a melody is involved, I can sing what I need to and attach that sound file to it. It serves as a notebook and a digital recorder all in one. Because it’s my phone, I’ve always got it on me and I don’t have to worry about carrying around something else. Problem solved.
At the risk of sounding redundant, I have kids. Kids are noisy. Heck, life is noisy. Noise, however, is the enemy of my creative process. It’s hard to hear the things that my muse is whispering to me when I’m surrounded by noise. How do you get rid of the noise? You can’t. However, there are some ways to avoid it for a little while.
There’s a small room in the basement of our house that my wife was kind enough to transform into a little musical den for me to crawl into and play, write, listen, or whatever I felt like doing. She originally tried calling it my Fortress of Solitude, which I liked, but because it’s in the basement and full of my “gadgets” I decided to call it the Batcave. When I’m using it, the Batcave is a wonderful, magical place for me. When I’m not, it becomes a storage space.
Recently, I began Operation Batcave Reclamation. In short, I took the thing back. Once again, it’s a place where I can go to do musicky stuff. It’s a comfortable place, but, more importantly, it’s a quiet place. All the noise in the Batcave is noise that I’m creating in order to be…well…creative. That kind of peace and quiet is, at least for me, vital to the creative process.
Unfortunately, I can’t spend all of my time in the Batcave. What then? Well, thanks to Evernote (see above), I can take advantage of brief and/or unexpected moments of silence that happen throughout my day. I’ve written some lines and recorded some melodies sitting in parking lots waiting on kids. I’ve reached out of the shower and grabbed my phone (quick shout-out to Griffin for their glorious Survivor case) to capture something, and we all know that the shower is, for whatever reason, a wonderful place for creativity.
Bottom line, while life is noisy, there really are brief moments of quiet. Whether we create them for ourselves or they just happen, it’s in our best interest to grab onto them and use them to our creative advantage.
The result of this influx of not only inspiration, but also my own dedication to allow time and create the right conditions to act on that inspiration, is that I’ve got a new song that I’m really excited about. I debuted it last week at a Showcase at the Grafton Pub in Chicago. Have a listen:
I’ve also got some other ideas logged in my phone and, for the first time in a while, I feel really confident that they’ll turn into something tangible.