How To Catch A Song Without Killing It

The bad news is – you can’t.

I’ve been thinking about the fear I sometimes have of working on a good song. When I’m uninspired the fear and loathing is easy to comprehend. I’m worried that I’m worthless and I suck as a songwriter and the tune I’m attempting to finish is shortly going to provide solid evidence of that fact.

But why do I drag my feet when I’m working on an idea that has a life of it’s own and is pushing it’s way out of my guitar and my mind? I think it’s because I know, deep down, that the real life song is never going to match up to the fantasy version that lives in my imagination.  But if I want a real song, in the real world, I have to come to terms with the fact that ‘pinning it down’ is probably going to ‘kill it’.

Some recent posts on the Brain Pickings website summed this up beautifully with quotes from authors Ann Patchett and Cheryl Strayed

This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its colour, so wild and loyal in its nature … my love for this book … is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin … Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the colour, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.

I never learned how to take the beautiful thing in my imagination and put it on paper without feeling I killed it along the way. I did, however, learn how to weather the death, and I learned how to forgive myself for it.

I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

Ann Patchett: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

[I] finally reached a point where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than the one of writing a book that sucked

I’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely nowhere-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.

Cheryl Strayed: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Everybody loves music, but it’s important that music likes you

Read Tom Waits on Catching Songs

About mattblick

Songwriter/Singer from Nottingham, UK. My 2nd EP, Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky, is out now. I'm blogging (& podcasting) through the entire Beatles catalogue at Beatles Songwriting Academy. In my spare time I wish I had some spare time.
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