Lyrics come to me in different ways. Sometimes I just start to say something that sounds “poetic” in my head. Sometimes it’s just nonsense that sounds good so I’ll repeat it to myself over and over so I remember it and I write it down. Then I have the start of what maybe a set of lyrics for a song.
From that initial line or lines I start to add others in the same manner and try to build a verse or a chorus. As I add the lines the story or idea for the story starts to form.
I may get a verse complete and can’t come up with the hook. So I just put it aside and think about it. Most of the time the hook comes to me out of the blue and I’ll again pick up the song or poem.
Other times I start with the hook which may come out of a conversation, something I say or hear someone else say. I may not be sure what the story line of the song will be but I make sure that I write the line or lines down on paper and put them in my folder where I keep all my other pieces of lyrics and poem ideas.
I can have three to five ideas in the folder at any time. I will then stop adding the ideas and review the folder, picking out the one that I really like and make an effort to finish it.
There are times I hear a story and think that would make a great song or poem and then work with that.
And sometimes the process is a combination of everything above. But as I go through my day when something spoken catches my ear or a thought in my head catches my inner ear I make an effort to write it down.
I always try to have paper and pen available, in jackets, car consoles, by my bed. I don’t care for recording my voice. I don’t like the sound and I think the physical act of writing adds something to my process.
Here are some examples of what triggered ideas.
One time I was cleaning up a vintage beer sign my wife had found to sell on EBay. When she had picked up the sign she didn’t realize that a snake had made its home in it and shed its skin leaving it inside the sign. We looked over the sign when she brought it home and I could see the skin through a hole in the back of the sign. She left it in our garage until she finally decided it was time to pull it out and sell it.
I open up the sign to clean it and discovered that the snake skin was gone but what was left behind were mouse droppings.
As we were discussing the description to use when placing the sign on EBay I joked we should put in the listing that the snake skins and mouse turds were included in the price.
That phrase “snake skins and mouse turds” caught my ear. I wrote it down and threw it in my lyric folder.
Days later when I was thinking about that phrase it brought to mind the image of someone cleaning out a house that contained nothing but boxes of worthless junk and mixed in with the junk were snake skins and mouse turds. I’ve been there.
That became my story line. The story would be about someone who had loved but been used by their lover and after they had left they were left with nothing but snake skins and mouse turds.
Another idea trigger was an elderly lady who lived across the street from my grandma’s.
When we were kids we always heard the story that she lost her husband in World War II. As a kid you didn’t think much about it.
.This lady was obsessive with her yard. She would mow two or three times a week and always did the final trim work by hand. She mowed with an old push reel mower (no engine) so it was cut just right.
The place was always immaculate. It wasn’t uncommon to see her sweeping the stones off the main road in front of her house at night.
When we were kids and even as adults we laughed about this behavior. Very eccentric borderline mental disorder, but we never thought about her story and what it must have done to her to lose her husband.
One time when my sister was in from out of town, my family was having dinner at the vacation cabin the she and her husband had built. Somehow the subject of this lady came up.
I asked my mom and dad did she really lose her husband in World War II. In the times that I grew up when unsavory things happened the parents would shield their kids from the truth by telling stories that fit the situation and made it palatable for kids. I was wondering was this one of them.
My parents confirmed that she had lost him in the war.
The story was he was seriously wounded and did not die on the battlefield but was sent back home to die. That’s how my dad put it.
Later that night after we all went home it struck me how sad that must have been, to have your love returned to you knowing it will be taken away.
Suddenly I thought I saw the reason for her years of obsession with her house and yard.
From that thought a set of lyrics was born.
My story may be off base but the story my parents told and the revelation were the inspiration.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. I’ve learned I just need to pay attention and make every effort to capture it when it comes my way.
I guess with as much as I’ve started talking about writing lyrics and poems and I should setup a page to let you read them.
© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.