There are times when I treat every beginning-of-a-song idea for what it is – the seed of a potentially good song… who knows, maybe my best yet. Of course, most of my ideas don’t end up that way. But that’s how I have to think of them – with a belief they might end well. . Because I almost never know how they’re going to turn out. I’m relying on hope and faith.
When you’re panning for gold you have to take every pan of dirt seriously, even if almost all of them yield nothing more than dirt. Times of striking gold can be few and far between. Sometimes you hit a vein and the riches flow… but mostly it’s hit or miss… which, realistically, adds up as mostly miss.
When, for whatever reason, I’m not connected to that hope and faith (non-religious, in my case), I tend to treat missing a songwriting idea like missing a bus – though I may be irritated, there’ll be another one along in a few minutes.
But, with songwriting, that particular bus will never come again – that idea. And it might’ve been a really good one. I’m not suggesting that I need to be insanely neurotic about this – no one’s perfect at this or anything. But respecting ideas when I get them is an essential Basic Practice for me as a songwriter.
How do I ‘respect ideas’? There’s only one way – by documenting them in some way. Writing them down, or recording them, or both.
I’m deluding myself when I think I’m going to remember my idea later. I’d be ashamed to admit how many times I’ve woken up in the morning with some weird melody or lyric phrase, or both, in my head and told myself either it was a bad idea, not worth rousing myself for (how would I, semi-conscious. know?) or that I’d remember it later (this confidence based on… what?).
In these cases I’m just being lazy and not observing the commitment I’ve made to myself to honor my ideas. I don’t make any claim for the quality of these ideas. But, for better or worse, they’re all I have; they’re my gold.
Let me just add that of course memory – of things that have happened in my life, of my feelings – is an essential wellspring of being able to write pretty much anything. How would I write without my patchy quilt of memories? But that’s not the same thing as remembering a specific thought I had 30 seconds ago. If I don’t document that… it’s gone.
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