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A Ticket To Write
By Danny McBride - 06/06/2007 - 09:22 AM EDT

Ever get stuck for an idea? You haven't written anything you like in a while, and it seems as if you may never again? Not full blown writer's block (I used to live on a street like that- -all writers). You're just a bit slow on the uptake. Can't get started.

What can you do?

Sometimes it's fun to just sit down and noodle aimlessly on the guitar or keyboard (yes I play both, although not always at the same time) and see where wandering fingers take you. Just start playing things that may make no sense the way a child who doesn't play might plunk out notes on an instrument. Clear your mind, relax and float downstream or, rather, just listen. Before you know it you may have a melodic phrase that's totally fresh and never before belonged to any known song. Then you have something to develop.

Or take a note pad and write thoughts that don't necessarily mean anything or even rhyme or have meter, just some random meanderings or ideas and chances are a catchy turn of phrase will pop out at you. Develop that.

Then take your exposed film to the drugstore. Develop- -wait- -never mind.

I like to write out loud. I sing and play as if I already knew what the song was. The neighbors don't care. They've given up on me long ago. Even the cat ignores me. Or sometimes, and this needs caution in doing, I sing while driving. Roll the windows up, turn OFF the radio, and sing OUT LOUD. The results can be thoroughly invigorating. "You just cut me off- -yeah, yeah, You stupid you-know-what, la, la, la".

You can actually get some pretty good ideas this way for both lyric and melody, combining true passion and feeling with something close to your heart. Of course later when you get home you can rework it into something more, well…hey, it's your song. Do what you like with it.

I call this the "Scrambled Eggs" approach to writing, after the famous Paul McCartney story of how he came to write Yesterday. As the story goes, he was eating breakfast, and came up with the melody and format for the song's verse while singing about the food before him: "Scrambled eggs. Toast and bacon, tea, and marmalade…" or whatever else he was eating that morning. Sing it. It works. And it can work for you. No not Yesterday. That one's taken. But you get the idea.

In order to write out loud either at home or while driving along the highways and byways (okay, here in L A, it's bumper-to-bumper on freeways) it's often best to have a cheap little cassette recorder just running along (actually probably recording on the seat beside you) in case you DO have a flash of brilliance. Then it won't be lost. I have one that cost less than $30.00 and it's just fine for this. It uses standard size cassettes so that I can pop them into my stereo later for a better playback. The quality's not great, but I'm the only one who's ever going to hear this stage of the creation (I hope). Then I can capture that magic moment and preserve it in a better fashion (write it down or record it as a little better demo fragment for later work).

Failing this, ALWAYS have a note pad and a pen with you for that thunderstruck moment when you either think of or overhear a GREAT phrase that you know is going to be a title or a hook line. These things pop up in daily life all the time while you're going to the market or the shoe store or anywhere, and if you jot them down, you may have the beginnings of your own Scrambled Eggs. Many's the time I've had to use a wet bar napkin and a keno crayon to capture that special moment. Better to have your own little pad of paper.

Writing whole songs while driving or doing something in a public place is probably not going to happen. At least I hope you're not driving anywhere near me if you're fiddling with your cassette recorder and notebook. I meant this only as a way of preserving an instantaneous lightning flash in its most original form. Please wait until you get home to write the whole song. Or pull over.

And all of this is meant only as suggestion for those times when nothing has come up fresh in your mind in whatever way you normally do things. Although it IS rather a bit of fun to pull up at a light yowling away at the top of your lungs some tune or lyric line you've just thought of and watch other motorists' facial expressions. Their reactions won't tell you if you have a hit or not , but they'll probably like it as a change of pace rather than pulling up next to a car with the radio blasting the exact opposite form of music they most prefer- -classical lovers always pull up next to hip-hoppers- -easy listening buffs pull up next to twangy country- -and whatever. You know. It's happened to you. While kids in the next car are pounding Eminem through the sub-woofers, I'm still waiting for eighty-year-olds blasting Sinatra to pull up next to THEM.

There are many ways to skin a cat, as the old saying goes, although I for one could NEVER skin a cat. Even this one. I love animals AND Chinese food, and I just don't want to think about it. But what I mean is there is no reason to mope around BLOCKED. There are just SO many ways to jumpstart the process. These are just a couple of ways I like to do it. You may have better ones already.

Anyway, I'm hungry. I haven't eaten anything yet today. Hmm…Now what was it that I've been craving…Hmm…oh yes…I know. HA! I bet you thought I was going to say SCRAMBLED EGGS! Wrong! I had those YESTERDAY!

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