I’ve got a Norah Jones record playing (currently a duet with Ryan Adams). I’ve got a cupacoffee at my elbow. It’s a dirty blonde with Antarctic proportions of sugar in it. Do I need my coffee to taste like candy? No. As a native-born Texican, I can drink it black. But if it’s possible to get your coffee to taste like candy, why wouldn’t you?
I’ve been thinking about the process of creation lately. I’m not sure how it works for other tortured souls. For me, it looks different in different mediums. If I’m writing words, it’s usually pretty quick (though I cringe and mope through the revisions). If I’m playing in the mud, I just try to keep it out of my eyes. But when I’m writing a song, that’s where I see the greatest distance between taste and ability.
Ira Glass from “This American Life” has some great words on this.
I have the language in my head. I have the harmonic rhythm in my chest. But the melody is hiding under the table. The lyrics are halfway out of bed or halfway smeared on a windshield.
Making a song requires the same discipline as anything else, I guess. It’s like when I was in college, working on Bach or Bottesini. I shaped every phrase. I measured out vibrato in coffee spoons. I strained to control bow speed and weight, listening through bedrock for the sound of a stampede. I even had one teacher tell me to write a poem, describing what I “felt” the Bach cello suite No.1 was about. It ended up sounding like a very sad Dr. Seuss story about cats. Never again…
There’s one particular clam I’m trying to pop right now. It’s called “Honey & Moonlight”. I tried to think of what I would call someone to show them how much I cared. Instead of “sunshine” or “doll” or “sweet cheeks” (which are not my favorite things and, therefore, not legitimate terms of endearment), I opted for honey and moonlight. They are two of my favorite things and I can think of no better combination to describe someone I like.
For a couple of years now, it’s only been a handful of words with this haunting, plaintive melody. The people who’ve heard it really like it and wonder what the rest sounds like. So do I.
Stuck. Stuck in the dark, straining to gain momentum. So, I ask you problem solvers: what do you do when you struggle with a problem off and on for a long time? Should I take a walk? Should I take a train to Pawtucket? Should I sing things upside down? How do you overcome writer’s block?
(So grateful that Jesus never gets writer’s block. Constantly speaking the world.)