Thoughts on writing

by Ali Sperry

I think about writing a lot so might as well write about writing. Been feeling a little stuck in the writing department lately so I'm trying to spin it and use it as an opportunity to become adept at writing when I don't feel like I have any burning need to express anything in particular in a song. I suppose waiting til inspiration comes back around is an option, but one that I'm not really willing to entertain since I am attempting to truly make a livelihood as a songwriter, and I don't want that to be dependent on "chasing the muse", as they say.

So here are a few tools that come to mind to help with this blockage: memory, imagination, and observation. Maybe I don't feel so inspired to write about something I am experiencing at this particular moment, or something I've been struggling with lately--but I have lived 32 years of emotions, experiences, struggles, reflections and I have surely not mined all of those for their full song potential. I can remember the times I was truly touched and inspired in a way that brought about the bubbling up inside that wants to come out and become something. Just remembering that bubbling makes it feel alive again. And not just memories of what I've lived so far, but imaginings of what I've yet to live and experience. Imagination is limitless. When I was little it was so easy for me to literally free-style, to just walk around recording improvised songs. I grew up as an only child until I was in my early teens, and I think in a way that helped foster my imagination. I could entertain myself endlessly by playing make believe. I would improvise lyrics like "Did you ever know the moon is the princess of the sky/Did you ever know the sun is the king of the whole world/". Ha! Good stuff, little Ali.

Observation is another big one. Not all songs have to be directly personally to be poignant and good. I read an article recently about Jason Isbell's latest record in which he was describing how he used observations and musings about other people's lives as fodder for his latest batch of songs. He was saying how he's observed many songwriters in their 30s do this more and more since they get to a point where writing about their own life experiences starts to feel limiting and old hat (I'm completely paraphrasing, but that was the idea). I like this and have found that it feels like a fun and liberating exercise to write about other people's lives and inner workings. Whether we are putting our own selves in a song or writing about someone else, it boils down to characters in a story.

Lastly, I find that the simple step of taking action is such a good tool for me. Just try. Pick up your guitar, free write, listen to music that inspires you (and by "you" I mean my advice to myself). Just shake off the waiting. Stir things up. The inspiration can come when it comes but I will keep carving out that time and space and singing those same couple words or playing that damn chord progression over and over til something emerges. And if it doesn't that's ok. But it always comes around eventually. It helps me to think about how when a baby is learning to crawl or walk, they get so frustrated. They cry and grunt and you can tell they are struggling. But instead of just giving up they keep trying, they keep deliberately taking themselves out of their comfort zone. Because they know that they are learning to do something that they absolutely were born to do. Something that is hard at first but eventually completely accessible. To grow is hard and frustrating and uncomfortable. It actually requires being uncomfortable because you are stepping into the unfamiliar where it is scary and you don't quite know how to operate yourself. But it is necessary. It is basically why we are here I think.