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Sunday, February 10, 2013

A few words about writing

By Ted Slowik

All my life I've wanted to be a writer. Most of my 30-odd-year professional career has involved writing, mainly journalism. I started playing music with violin and piano lessons as a small kid, and began playing guitar at 15. I wrote my first song at about age 17.

So, where does a writer find inspiration for songs? What is the writing process like? When will the Cubs win a World Series? These and other questions will be addressed in this post.

First, writing songs is distinctly separate from performing and recording songs. That said, recording and performing artists who also write their own material are what is known as a "triple threat," meaning they can sing, dance and act or they are likely to hit a triple into the gap, one of the two. Some really talented singers and players don't have to worry about writing. They can use their other gifts to entertain and/or make a living, and writing is less important to them.

But for some "hard core" artists, writing is what they do. They may spend their whole lives searching for the right vehicles to express the messages in their hearts. "Real" writers write not for monetary gain, or for fame, but because they see the world more clearly than most, or at least in a different way, and they are compelled to share the truths they know.

All writers draw from personal experiences, to varying degrees. Some songs may be heartfelt expressions of intimate relationships with lovers, spouses, parents, siblings, children or friends. Some may be simple stories of fictitious characters, told in third person. Some may be attempts to capture timeless, beautiful elements of the world around us.

One can approach writing in an intellectual, task-oriented way. You're commissioned or assigned to write about something, so you do. But if left to his own devices, what subjects will a writer write about? What is the process for creating something out of nothing? And what's the inspiration?

Most writing takes place in the mind. Before pen ever strikes paper, or fingers touch computer keyboard, or before a single note is played on an instrument, a song or story is often first imagined. Writers need periods of quiet solitude to allow this to happen. A writer is more likely to get an idea if he's sitting in a quiet room as opposed to watching TV or doing any one of a number of other distracting things.

Sometimes the most beautiful moments for a writer are those transitions between consciousness and sleep. Some ideas come in dreams, but what do we dream about? Dreams are manifestations of what's going on in our lives. If you think really hard about a problem or situation while you're falling asleep, your subconscious often will provide a solution or at least offer clues to you in a dream. You'll usually wake up and see things differently.

Songs aren't always personal. Songs can be written as a means of social commentary. "We can change the world," that sort of thing. No life is perfect. But a song can be about an imagined ideal. The oppressed sing about freedom. The heartbroken sing about love. Writing has to be about something. Otherwise, what's the point? Don't write unless you have something to say.

In conclusion, the Cubs are going through a lot of changes. The new owners are likely to continue rebuilding the team, and Wrigley Field is about to undergo and major makeover. Make no mistake: these people want to win a World Series. Give it a couple years.