Monday, October 13, 2008

three of my favourite letters: DIY

i am in the happy position of heading up a monthly songwriters' bloc here in Simcoe County. the only sad part is that we can't open it up to everyone who would like to be a part of it.

we're coming up to the sixth anniversary of the inception of the Barrie and District Association of Singer/Songwriters (BaDAS/S). Don Bray and i started small, with a few of our most trusted friends, and gradually and cautiously grew the group, with the ever-present aim of keeping things friendly and constructive.

and it has been a great success for almost all involved. we have about 20 members now, half of whom show up on a regular basis. we've only ever had one initiate quit. that was after one session, when he immediately realized he had absolutely no interest in hearing other writers' takes on his material. fair enough. he writes some pretty good stuff without us.
we also have one member who has never been to a session. we live in hope.

so, maybe you're one of those who would like to be in our elite little group. or maybe you're just out there somewhere, and you would like to be invited into one like it.


if you write songs, you probably know a few others who do as well. so start up your writers' bloc and invite them in. feel free to use my acronym idea - it would be so cool to see these things popping up everywhere - in Saskatoon (SaDAS/S), Moncton (MaDASS), Sutton, Cannington and Beaverton (SCaBAS/S), Haliburton and Regional District (HaRDAS/S),.. you get the idea.

meet once a month at one anothers' homes. drinks, nibblies, make it a fun event. then get down to work. budget approximately 15 minutes per song. first participant plays the song. he/she then gives out copies of the lyric (if there is one. people do write instrumentals). do not reverse this order - you want people to listen intently, and you want to know if something wasn't clear to them before reading the words.
all criticism must be constructive. if you hate the song and think it absolutely unredeemable, say nothing.
and if you think that your friends, singularly and as a group, are tough enough to take that kind of criticism in a healthy way, think again.
the sole purpose of your bloc is to encourage writers to become better writers. some, if not all, will feel competitive urges and want to belittle others' work, but you have to try your best to keep these to a minimum.

so tell the writer what you like most about the song, what works for you. offer her alternative suggestions for word choices, melodies, song structure. keep in mind that the song is probably not fully formed, that the writer is still finding his way with it. also that there is likely to be a strong emotional attachment to the song. we sensitive types are easily bruised.

don't pick nits. among ten people in a room, someone is going to be turned off by a particular word, phrase or piece of melody. don't waste time on tiny details of personal taste. the song belongs to the writer. she is the final arbiter.

go on to the next song, and the next. if you like, you can do a half-hour writing exercise with the group. this is something we've added fairly recently, and it's been a hit.

invite others in, after consulting with the group. grow gradually and with care. think about hiring a professional singer/songwriter to run a workshop with you. have a yearly DIY Getaway weekend at a lodge somewhere and invite every songwriter you know. we do this in January at an outdoor education centre, with 30-35 folks, many of whom we've never met.

you will soon find yourself in a beautiful community which you helped create. it's a wonderful feeling. next thing you know, you will be blogging, daring others to do the same in their corner of the musical world.

so many corners. go on, i dare you.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

what i want to say to you is...

writing is more inside you than out, but it flows between the spheres, at the line where Life becomes Art. this line is Metaphor. inspiration seems to come from without, even when it does not. the sum of your experience is a rich trove of creation, connected and re-connected through your heart and your mind.

and your audience is the same, ready to assimilate your images into their experience, to recreate them and find resonance.

writing is love and generosity. your love of writing itself, and of the things you choose to write about, given freely to anyone who might share your love.

writing is work, but work you choose to do, work that rewards you with insight and a better life.

the best writing is honest - readers/listeners lose interest with falseness. even when writing fiction, you must tell the truth. which means you must know your story and your characters far beyond what you commit to paper or put to music.

good writing is more grown than built. it grows from an idea, through a conglomeration of related images, ever expanding, freely formed but which will at some point suggest structures with which to organize themselves.

writing needs to be free, uncensored. and unedited, until the final stages. play with the language you love, find rhythm in speech and in the written line, which is only a substitute for speech. language is heard in the head of the reader. trust the sneaky images you find when you play - don't ignore what you think might not "fit". it does - you just have to find out how. put it in your character's hands - what is it to him/her? you can answer this, because you know everything about her/him, or are at least willing to find out.

be brave, have fun, make something new. and be proud.