by Harriet Schock
WRITING IN SPACE
I'm always hearing colleagues and students say they're not writing because they don't have the time. And I know that can seem to be a real problem. But consider, if you will, the following premise: Songs are not written in time, they're written in space. A flash of inspiration can come to you at the strangest times and places. Usually it's where you're not prepared to write it down and when you don't really have the time to develop it. That's one reason keeping a journal is so helpful. I've always considered the muse a bit perverse, anyway. I mean why do we get all our best ideas where there's no pencil? Like in the shower or in bed. So all the preparation you hear about designed to invite the muse -- sit in this chair, write every day, schedule writing sessions, quit your day job -- it's all ritual. The truth of the matter is, you can write anywhere any time, with no time devoted to it, in the margins of your day or in the middle of another activity. Of course, once you get the ideas that come in the flash, some time is needed to develop them. But if it's something real that is screaming to be said, it'll write itself. No matter what you may have planned, that song's going to get written. And your schedule will just have to adapt. You may have to pull over to the side of the road, or stay up all night or be late to your appointment. But that baby's coming out.
So what is this "space" we need to write a song in? I will attempt to keep this discussion down to earth, even though it's not a down to earth kind of thing. The space I'm talking about you can't put something in -- it's not physical. But it's absolutely real. You hear people say every now and then "I just wasn't in the space to do that." That's the kind of space I'm talking about. Some people call it head space, but I don't think it's in the head. But then that's another discussion.
How do you get this space? One way is to get rid of the stuff that's taking up the space you do have. You know how good you feel after going through a closet and throwing unusable garments out? Well, writing space is created by going through and throwing stuff out too. A mundane example would be going through papers that have been piled around pulling at your attention. Of course, you may argue that if you had time to go through the papers, you'd have time to write. But remember I'm contending that you don't need time to write, you need space. So try going through the papers, until when you walk through that room, nothing's pulling at your attention. Now you have attention to pay to other, more creative matters. Other things can hold your attention -- worries, secrets, fears, your general baggage. As Nik Venet says in his workshop, "Your luggage may be designer luggage, but you still need to get rid of it." I won't get into the benefits to the personality of this kind of housecleaning: there are enough benefits to one's writing to be discussed.
Have you ever noticed that while you're on vacation, away from all the daily attention grabbers and routine, you get all sorts of ideas? Space was created from throwing out all the normal day-to-day activities. Pretty much anywhere you can be where a realization could occur is space making. A great speaker or an inspiring book can do it. I notice it regularly at the Nik Venet Workshop where people have such regular and frequent realizations, they don't notice when they leave that the tops of their heads are missing. They have lost, weekly, more and more misconceptions about songwriting, performing and the music business. They don't understand why they go home and write songs. It's done in all that space that was left after the false information was blown out.
Just as getting rid of negative things can create space, so can adding positive ones. Now, the positive experience may not be what the song ends up being written about, but it can create the space in which any song can be written. For instance, doing something you feel really good about -- helping someone and being of service, doing a wonderful concert, meeting a new person, falling in love, etc.
You know how good you feel after giving or seeing a great concert. You could stay up writing all night, whereas at that time of night on any other night, you might feel tired or uninspired. Since not everyone does concerts, let's take the example of being of service. Do you remember a time you were able to do something someone really needed? Maybe you helped a friend get through a problem, or worse yet, move from one apartment to another -- something totally selfless. You know how good you felt? Every time I see a student break through something in his writing or solve a problem in a particular song, I get a burst of space along with him (or her).
Remember when you fell in love? You might have had the busiest schedule in the world, but you found time to think about that person, didn't you? And didn't ideas come rushing into your head like a broken-dammed river? And you'd write them down while you were brushing your teeth or on the freeway. You didn't clear out your schedule to write that. You wrote it in the space created by that heightened affinity you felt for the person.
Another space creator is having a burning desire to communicate something. Lots of songs are written after a painful or frustrating experience. Usually, there is something you really needed to say or do which never got said or done. That undelivered communication will want to come out with the force of a love song in the first burst of love. It needs to be said. It will nag at you and create its own space in which to get written. When Mickey Newberry was asked why all his songs were sad, he said that when he was happy, he was out having a good time. And when he was sad, he was home writing. Maybe that's why many of the positive love songs are still written about longing for someone the writer cannot be with at the moment. Richard Marx said to his wife across the sea, "I'll be right here waiting." If they'd been together, the song might never have been written.
Every new father and new mother I know has written a song about the experience of feeling a huge burst of love for a new baby. And who could be busier than a new parent? Love creates space. It's as simple as that. And in the space, we write.
So the next time your songwriting friends give you that lame excuse about time, tell them about the final frontier. Tell them to clean their apartments. Take a vacation. Get their hearts broken. Have a baby. Fall in love. (Not necessarily in that order) After all, the space for a great song could come from it. And aren't we all accused at one time or another of doing it for the songs?
copyright © 1995 by Harriet Schock