If the s*** don't flow

Exactly one year ago, Spencer got out the guitar and we sat down, determined to write more songs. If we were going to commit to an artistic partnership and perform, record, and teach songwriting workshops together… then heck, we better be pumping out the tunes ourselves.

He started playing a chord progression, setting the scene, and waiting for me to contribute melody and lyrics. Silently, I searched my brain for some ideas, and they made their way to the tip of my tongue. But before they could make it out, the voice in my head got going: “Oh, that’s kind of cheesy. I should say it that way instead... Ick, no, that wouldn’t sound right, too many syllables. Actually, I probably shouldn’t sing anything having to do with that topic at all, there are too many songs about it already and I’ll sound trite no matter what…"

I looked up, and Spencer was still patiently grooving on guitar. And WHAM! Full meltdown status. Tears, choked-up broken speech, the whole bit. All of my ideas are stupid. I’ll never have anything interesting to say. Why does songwriting have to be so hard, when the most important thing I want in my career is to share my experience through song?

Spencer was upset that I was beating myself up so much. “We can’t do this anymore,” he said. “If writing together is going to be this painful, we can’t do it at all. It’s not worth it."

Um, what?

"Are you crazy? We want to be songwriters... make albums... tour together… we’ve got to write at some point to do that..."

“Yeah, but if the s*** don’t flow, change your diet."

It didn’t make any sense. Songwriting was black and white: Sudden inspiration. Guitar. Voice. Lyric journal. Every song I had ever written required these steps be completed in some magic, unpredictable order.

These steps had worked out great when I was a teen — I could write a full song in under an hour, and think it was absolutely incredible! But somewhere along the way, the sparks of inspiration became fewer and far between. I hated every idea I had and would snuff them out before they even had a chance to develop. And now on top of it all I had lost my songwriting partner… or at least, he would no longer participate in the black and white process that had become forced, scary, and uninspiring.

Billie Holiday performing in 1949. It could not have been easy for her to compose and perform in a male-dominated industry, but she managed to become one of the most influential musicians in American history.

Billie Holiday performing in 1949. It could not have been easy for her to compose and perform in a male-dominated industry, but she managed to become one of the most influential musicians in American history.


After I had settled down, I set out to make a list of things that made songwriting a burden for me.
—Playing an instrument.
—Getting stuck in my head by judging my lyric ideas.

Then I tried to think of times when I was inspired. Times I forgot to look at the clock because I was having so much fun creating, also known as being in "Flow.” I made a list of environmental factors that make getting into Flow possible.
—Being completely alone.
—Being in a clean space.
—Having natural light.
—Creating in the morning (before my responsibilities and to-do list could take over).

Once I had the lists of burdensome and inspirational factors, I could experiment with how to eradicate the former and emphasize the latter. At first it was daunting (how was I going to collaborate with Spencer if in order to be in Flow I needed to be completely alone?!), but I ended up finding that by making small changes it’s possible to develop a new process that feels right.

—For starters, I put down the guitar and started recording in GarageBand or by using voice memos.
—To help with getting stuck in my head, I tried a few methods of what I called "stream of consciousness writing." For example, muting the TV and channel surfing while singing about the disjointed clips I saw in real time. After ten minutes or so, I would go back to listen and pick out and rearrange the interesting parts. Even though the lyrics were still my thoughts and experiences, it felt like I was making a collage instead of putting my vulnerable emotions on the line and it definitely helped quiet the self-critic.

And now I’m realizing that I’ve spent the entire year holding on to that crude phrase, and am still reworking my diet to make sure that dang s*** keeps flowing! I’m always hunting for new ways to create that feel natural and inspiring. And even though it’s not easy, it’s liberating to know that each of us has unique needs that can be achieved using unique methods. Something that works for someone else might not work for you, and that’s okay (in fact, it’s good!).

So, locate your allergies! Stop binging on junk food! Discover the veggies you need for your creative diet, and you’ll get things *moving* in no time!


Thank you for taking the time,


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