Juicy Details

The first and most basic tool in your kit as a songwriter is your own completely unique perspective and experience of the world. Maybe you have thought ‘every song has already been written’, and it has! The universal themes of uncertainty, coming of age, love won and lost, rebellion, frustration, fear of letting go, discovery, conflict, isolation, celebration and ceremony continue to squeeze our little pink hearts and tickle our minds into reverie and action. The task of each songwriter is to imbue those universal experiences with the juicy details that make up your specific experience of them!

The best way to turn on you inner songwriter is an exercise I call Sense Writing. With Sense Writing, you will choose one image to concentrate your writing on. Once you have chosen your image, you will spend 10 minutes with your pen on the page describing this image and associations with the image. However, you will focus your writing on using your SENSES to describe it.

As songwriters, we are a special bunch who are blessed with not just five, but an alarming SEVEN senses with which to spin our word pictures! The SEVEN senses of the songwriter are:

Sight

Sound

Smell

Taste

Touch

Organic

Kinesthetic

Organic? Kinesthetic? Waaa….? I hear you ask…

The organic sense is the feeling and sensation you experience inside your body. When you are nervous or excited, this might be the shot of adrenalin that shoots like fireworks from your stomach to your throat. If you are drinking coffee, this might be the warm trickle that cascades down your throat, and puddles in the center of your stomach.

The kinesthetic sense is triggered anytime your perceptual relationship to the outside world is affected. This can be hard to grasp, and is best shown by examples. Some good examples might be dizziness or vertigo cause by heights – like when you are walking across a bridge and you look down between the slats at your feet. It might also be the dizziness you feel after a few glasses of wine, when you lay your head on a pillow and world starts to swim around you. It might also be when you are on a train looking out the window, and the external world seems to rush, like a horizontal waterfall, in a streaming shower of green and brown. Or even better – your kinesthetic sense goes wild when another train passes you by faster than the train you are on, and you all of a sudden get the sense that your train is travelling backwards!

DO IT NOW!

Sense writing should be no longer than 10 minutes. Do not stop writing! But do not write past 10 minutes! Sense Writing is a daily practice, and is best done in the morning.

Before you start, a good idea is to write the 7 senses at the top of your page, and make sure that you hit on as many as possible during the 10 minutes.

Here are some examples of images to get you going:

  • Objects: coffee cup; favorite t-shirt; couch; tree
  • People: teacher; doctor; dentist; chain smoker; professional dancer; actor on a stage
  • Places: airport; bus station; bed room; botanical gardens; circus
  • Moments: coming home at 3am; New Year’s Eve; my 7th birthday party

How to use Sense Writing

  • daily exercise – activate your inner writer.
  • mine your sense writing and collect your golden nuggets in a separate notebook.
  • when you have a song idea, sense write on objects, images, or people related to your idea.
  • when you have a section in a song, and you are looking for unique, interesting and vivid imagery for that section.
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2 thoughts on “Juicy Details”

    1. Good questions! The answer is: not very different at all! The difference is really semantic: Pat starts from the “Object”, whereas I encourage people to focus more on the “Sense” aspect of this writing. In terms of what you are actually doing, it is the same thing, but ‘objects’ is only a starting point – it is tapping into your senses no matter what you are describing that is important. You can use people, places, moments in time, or even start with an emotion itself, but the focus is always on the senses. Andrea Stolpe also encourages this broader approach in her book “Commercial Songwriting Techniques”, and Pat has updated his chapter in Writing Better Lyrics (2 ed) on Object Writing to be more inclusive/expansive as well. Hope that’s helpful!

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