My 6 Favourite Books of 2021

Top 3 Fiction

A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik

I snuck this one in in the last week of 2021, and was overwhelmingly grateful to have the sequel, ‘The Last Graduate’ waiting next to my bed. I would have been devastated to have read something SO GOOD, and not be able to keep reading.

What I loved about this: the protagonist, Galadriel, is a teenage wizard, constantly irritated to the point of wanting to murder everyone. She wants to do the right thing and be a good person, despite being the centre of a prophecy that foretells she will be the bringer of doom and destruction to all wizard-kind. She is constantly battling the urge to fulfill the prophecy, which would be so easy, since her school keeps feeding her spells for erupting supervolcanoes, and building dark towers to impale her enemies upon.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

I’m a bit late to the game with this one, but am so glad to have read it. It’s the kind of book I will get my kids to read when they are 13 or 14, by telling them there are “adult things in here that might not be appropriate for them…” Which there aren’t, but they will smell my enthusiasm for it too quickly unless I veil it…The book follows two teenagers who are in love, but also live with different experiences of cancer. Cancer, though, is not the point. The point is about how to be alive in the face of mortality. As Hannah Arendt says,

We will lose everything we love, including our lives — so we might as well love without fear, for to fear a certainty is wasted energy that syphons life of aliveness.

Charlotte’s Web, EB White

This book wasn’t a part of my childhood, so I had the joint pleasure of experiencing for the first time as I read it to my 6-year-old and watched his joy. I have Strunk and White’s classic ‘Elements of Style’ (an absolutely essential reference on the craft of writing) always within reach of my desk, and it was a joy to read this story, and to witness how craft can truly elevate art. Every sentence is so deliberately crafted, and also so full of heart and beauty. But it is the craft itself that clears the window of all unnecessary scratches, so that we can see clearly through it to the story.

Top 3 Non-fiction

Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom

Photo: Megan Rosenbloom on Twitter

Rosenbloom takes a niche, esoteric, and slightly morbid obsession of hers, ‘anthropodermic bibliopegy’—the study of books bound in human skin—and follows it down dark alleys that lead to wide open plazas of history, sociology, and very human stories that embody some of the most fundamental aspects of our existence together: consent, power, autonomy. 

I learned how the French Revolution created our present-day system of medical education and hospitals, before which, surgeons were considered the same as barbers, and doctors had little, if any, formal training. How, until alarmingly recently, doctors acquired cadavers as a standard practice, from career graverobbers. How this led, inevitably, to desperate and enterprising people committing serial homicides in order to ply doctors with cadavers for training. I learned that the most frequent owners of human skin-bound books were not Nazis or malignant dungeon-dealers, but mostly doctors—which is its own gateway into the problematic history of the medical profession and its endemic exploitation of the poor, of women, of people of colour. 

As a songwriter, what I loved most about this book was how it took a simple object and used it as a magnifying glass into the human story. Megan didn’t just show me the object she was looking at in a new way; she reminded me to open my eyes and see; that there is story behind everything, if you pay attention and ask the right questions.

You can listen to Megan talk about it on one of my favourite podcasts of 2021, Ologies!

The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green

Yes, I’m officially a John Green fan. This is a book of non-fiction essays, in which Green rates seemingly unrelated phenomena of the human-centred era using a 5-star rating system, which is really just a way to talk about things that have moved him, in one way or another, from the Lascaux Caves, to scratch ‘n sniff stickers, to Canada geese.

There are amazing stories and disturbing facts (“The biomass of all living humans currently on earth is about 385 million tons. The biomass of all our livestock is about 800 million tons. The biomass of bacteria is about 35 times the biomass of all other living creatures on earth”), as well as startling and moment-stopping reflections on hope through the eyes of someone (Green himself) who suffers from intense periods of depression:

I sometimes stop hearing the tune. I still become enveloped by the abject pain of hopelessness. But hope is singing all the while. It’s just that again and again and again, I must relearn how to listen.

The Shape of Sound, Fiona Murphy

Fiona Murphy is a physiotherapist, who is completely deaf in one ear. She grew up being able to ‘pass’ as a fully hearing person, even though her experience of the world, and of herself, is profoundly shaped by the way she hears (and doesn’t hear) the world. The book is something like a memoir, but written in a moment of her young adult life when she is only now starting to grapple with her own experience of deafness, and Deaf culture.

What I loved about the book: I loved that it isn’t written from a place or pretence of having ‘figured it out’. It’s someone still grappling, and expressing value in the grappling, not in having achieved a sense of ‘what it all means’. It’s a book that feels like a sequence of great questions, rather than pretending to have answers.

George Saunders, Janis Ian, and Paul Simon—Where Meaning Comes From in Story

In a recent newsletter by one of my favourite writers, George Saunders, he writes of one of his characters in a short story, The Falls:

“A story has a surface dimension (let’s call it the overstory) and another, deeper, dimension (the understory). The overstory, in this case, is whether Morse will save the girls. That’s what we think we’re supposed to care about and what we (very naturally) do care about. The understory is somehow related to the Joycean idea of the epiphany – it’s what the story has really been about all along. The writer might not realize it until that moment when the understory breaks through the overstory and the story tells us, finally, what it’s been about all along.”

Photo: Zachary Krahmer

I believe (and experience) songwriting to be similar. As Janis Ian has said, often we write not because we have Something To Say; we write to find out what we are writing about.

Photo: Peter Cunningham

We often need to go spelunking through the dark and lumpy caves of the mind and imagination to arrive at some smooth pond that reflects a meaning back to us (that’s me, not Janis Ian, although I suspect that she, like me, has never been spelunking).

Paul Simon has framed a similar idea in a different way. Simon says that in his songwriting, he feels that his songs don’t need to have “meaning,” and probably benefit from avoiding it as the instigator of an idea. Instead, Simon says (in his wonderful interview with Paul Zollo, in Songwriters of Songwriting), songs simply need direction. Connect one idea to a second, and an idea has movement; connect it to a third, and the song has direction. Meaning will attach itself to direction, without needing to force it, plan it, or even mean it.

Photo: Frank Ockenfels

I like the idea that meaning is emergent; it takes the pressure off having to have ‘something to say’—or instead, it trusts the intelligence of a listener to bring their own experience and meaning to a story. It also encourages a trust in oneself as a writer—where there is story, there is meaning, and sometimes that meaning might be more complex, subtle, and personal, if we don’t set out from the starting point of ‘meaning’, but from the starting point of story.

Drunk in the day – and other tips on writing well

Writes William Zinsser in, “On Writing Well”:

…you have to strip your writing down before you can build it back up. You must know what the essential tools are and what they were designed to do. Extending the metaphor of carpentry, it’s first necessary to be able to saw wood neatly to drive nails. Later you can bevel the edges or add elegant finials, if that’s your taste. But you can never forget that you are practising a craft that’s based on certain principles. If the nails are weak, your house will collapse. If your verbs are weak and your syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart.

For songwriters, we are tasked with building mansions in the mind of a listener on limited real estate. Each word must be necessary, otherwise it’s a loose nail. Often the right choice of an image, expressed simply and clearly, is so much more charged with emotion than verbal ornament.

As Jeff Tweedy says in “How to Write One Song”,

An “impatient red fiery orb loomed in the whiskey-blurred, cottony-blue sky” is rarely going to hit me anywhere near as hard as “I was drunk in the day.”


Banner image: Fionn McCabe

The Best Method for Writing a Good Song

From a recent interview with John Mayer:

“Whenever I want to write a big song, I can’t. And by “big” I mean spatially…the glacially large space inside the heart, that’s when I get writers block…trying to write a song to fill the entire galaxy. But if I write a song about the size of a glass of water, and I do it right, I notice a week later that it’s got the universe in it. I’d rather have the universe inside a glass of water, rather than try to make a glass of water fit in the universe.”

You can see the whole interview here (I’ve tagged it at the point where Mayer is talking about detail in songwriting.

This idea radiates into other forms of storytelling, which are really all connected—all trying to convey something that is simultaneously personal, drawn from the details of one’s own life, but also with a universal connection that creates communication, not just catharsis.

This idea was reiterated to me when I went poking around Matthew Dicks’ YouTube channel. Matt is a master storyteller—52-time Moth StorySLAM winner, and 7-time GrandSLAM champion. He made a lo-fi (and highly excellent) video outlining a storytelling game he plays in workshops and classrooms, called “3-2-1”. When explaining why he uses random concrete nouns as prompts, rather than something massive and emotional like “struggle” (or we could sub that for equally glacial concepts, like “loneliness” or “climate change”), Dicks says:

“It’s hard to tell a story if someone asks you, ‘Could you tell a story about a time when you struggled’. That is hard for a lot of people, including me, because ‘a time when you struggled’ is a very broad concept. There’s many, many times in our lives when we struggle. And so pick out the right story—to pick out any story—is really challenging. The odd thing is, the more specific the lens that you’re forced to look at your life through, the more likely you are to find a story.”

(My emphasis added)

You can see Matt’s whole video on his storytelling exercise here:

Matt was also kind enough to share with me the website he uses to generate the random nouns in this video, which is HERE (and on perusing it for a minute, it has other amazing filters that will generate other random lists for you, like cliches, emotions, ‘speech-verb’).

For a songwriter-specific writing exercise that will help you forever tap into the details, check out Object Writing in this video (I’ve tagged it right at Object Writing):

Pair this with 120 Sense Writing Prompts.

Why write it as a song?

It’s a question I ask of myself all the time. Why write this idea as a song, and not as a poem? A short story? A blog post? An angry rant to a neighbour? 

What function does a song serve that draws me to it as the vehicle for an idea?

One answer is that a song has the capacity, like no other thing, to make us feel thought. Songs translate ideas into emotion. We get the beauty and nuance and narrative of words, with the unspeakable colours of music. Nothing else does it quite like that.

And what draws people to song? There are obviously lots of reasons, ways, places and purposes for listening to songs (Dan Levitan’s ‘The World in Six Songs’ is a nice anthropological working on the social and biological function of song throughout human history), but I recently had another inkling about the strange addiction to writing and listening to songs, while reading Matthew Dicks’ ‘Storyworthy’. Dicks starts by outlining what he means by storytelling when he does it and teaches others to do it. One of the core principles is this: write only your story, never anyone else’s. It sounds obvious, but the idea is that even when you want to tell a story about someone or something other than you, it only connects with an audience (which is to say, they will only be moved, changed, transformed by it), if it is told from your perspective; how that story happened to you; how it changed you. As Dicks puts it:

People would rather hear the story about what happened to you last night than about what happened to Pete, even if Pete’s story is better than your own

Dicks distinguishes this type of storytelling from fables and fiction, that both have a different (and important) function; but there is nothing that cracks our own hearts into a shape capable of bending and changing like a true story told by the person who experienced it. 

This is also what songs are at their best. 

I am, admittedly, a fan of fiction in songwriting. I like bending the truth—often so out of shape that I end up singing from the perspectives of infanticidal primary school teachers and self-sabotaging scientists awash in delusions of grandeur. I love Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Gillian Welch (songwriters who revel in persona-driven stories). I love feeling that there can be truth, honesty, and discovery that can only be reached by searching beyond our own autobiographies. 

But it is undeniable that we as listeners crave the “immediacy and grit and inherent vulnerability in hearing the story of someone standing before you” (to quote Dicks again). So it is with story; so it is with song.

I’m only a third of the way through Storyworthy, and loving every page. There will be a lot in here that I will borrow and translate into my songwriting classes. 

120 Sense Writing Prompts

If you’re already familiar with Sense Writing (aka Object Writing), feel free to skip ahead to the prompts below. If Sense Writing is new to you, here’s a little primer.

What is Sense Writing?

Sense Writing is a timed 10-minute writing exercise, in which you take a prompt, and use that prompt as a gateway into whatever association arises for you based on the prompt. It is like free-writing, in the sense that you write continuously for 10 minutes, without editing yourself, and without ‘writing lyrics’. So no rhyme, no rhythm. Just sentences. The difference between Sense Writing and free writing is that in Sense Writing, you stay focused on using the senses to describe the scene, situation, or moment that arises in response to the prompt.

Sense Writing is based on lyric writing teacher Pat Pattison’s ‘Object Writing’. You can explore it in more detail here.

Why Sense Writing?

Sense Writing is the single most useful writing exercise that I have ever come across in my life as a songwriter. I use it on days when I have no idea what to write about. I use it when I’m in the middle of a song, and I’m looking for lyrics to furnish a particular idea. Sense Writing has the beauty of being a tool you can always default to when looking for ideas, as well as being a tool that strengthens your ability to convert ideas into specific, sensory imagery. And, it only takes 10 minutes or less.

Prompts

Starting with objects is a good strategy, as it keeps you grounded in the physical world. As you progress, dip into the prompts in other categories, understanding that the goal is ALWAYS to use the prompt as a springboard into a specific scene, situation, or moment, and to use vivid, descriptive sense-bound language to explore that moment in writing.

Enjoy!

OBJECTS:

COFFEE CUP, OLD T-SHIRT, FIRE PIT, MILKSHAKE, WALLET, PAINTING, MARBLE, SANDWICH, ANKLE, CABINET, BITUMEN, SUMMER RAIN, DUCT TAPE, FUTON, MOON, WEED, SKETCH, FINGERNAIL, TICKET, TOOTH

PEOPLE:

FARMER, DANCER, OLYMPIC BOXER, GRANDFATHER, SURGEON, TEACHER, FIRST LOVE, QUEEN, RETIREE, MIDDLE CHILD, MAGICIAN, CLEANER, PATIENT, LIBRARIAN, ACTOR, WAITER, ROCK CLIMBER, NEIGHBOUR, LAST PERSON TO LEAVE, BULLY

PLACES:

MALL, COUCH, KITCHEN, CLASSROOM, ALLEYWAY, TRAIN STATION, AIRPORT, GRANDMA'S HOUSE, UNDER THE BED, SUPERMARKET, GRAVEYARD, HOTEL, TUNNEL, HOSPITAL, FRONT PORCH, CAMPSITE, CANYON, OUTER SPACE, FRONTLINE

TIMES/EVENTS:

WEDDING, FUNERAL, 7TH BIRTHDAY PARTY, GRADUATION, FIRST KISS, NEW YEAR'S EVE, 3A.M., AUTUMN, SCHOOL BELL, LUNCH BREAK, CONCERT, MOVING OUT, FIRST DAY, SUNRISE, FAMILY HOLIDAY, SWIMMING, MIDNIGHT, SAYING SORRY, PROTEST, WILDFIRE

EMOTIONS:

DELIGHT, BOREDOM, HUMILITY, NOSTALGIA, ENVY, DEFENSIVENESS, CONFUSION, UNCERTAINTY, CONTENT, SCHADENFREUDE, LOVE, RELIEF, SURPRISE, IMPATIENCE, DENIAL, ANXIETY, ANTICIPATION, NERVOUSNESS, REMORSE, SATISFACTION

CONCEPTS:

STUCK, CONNECTION, IMPRESSION, RESPONSE, CHEMISTRY, AFFAIR, COLD, CELEBRATION, FORGIVENESS, GROWING OLDER, ELECTION, TRADITION, PRIORITY, DEPARTURE, ECONOMY, OPINION, COUNTRY, NEWS, REPUTATION, OPPORTUNITY

Songwriters on songwriting

I’ve been baffled lately that there aren’t more songwriters in the world who write about writing. Luckily, there are centuries worth of novelists, essayists, and other author types who have written so lucidly and honestly about the craft of writing, its messiness, its need for discipline. (Some of my favourites are On Writing by Stephen King, Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman, and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr.)

There is, of course, the classic ‘Songwriters on Songwriting’, which I dip into a few times a year, and has given me almost a decade of interesting insights. With that said, it also reveals the ways in which songwriters are much more oblivious to their craft than their counterparts in prose or poetry. There are so many references to being a ‘channel to the muse’ that it makes my muse want to shrivel up and take up chain-smoking.

With all of that said, there have a been two delightful books that came out in 2020 that are, I hope, forging a more honest and fertile ground for other songwriters to share the details of their practice.

One is ‘How to Write One Song’, by Jeff Tweedy (which I discovered reading Austin Kleon’s blog, one of my faves).

I loved, and tried, his ‘word ladder’ exercise, which reminds me a lot of Pat Pattison’s metaphor collision exercises. The exercise basically involves having a column of nouns that are drawn from one area/field/room, and another column of verbs that are drawn from something totally unrelated. What I like about Tweedy’s version is the sense of freedom and experimentation in how to simply mix and match, with a loose brain:

“…take a pencil and draw lines to connect nouns and verbs that don’t normallyw ork together. I like to use this exercise not so much to generate a set of lyrics but to remind myself how much fun I can have with words when I’m not concerning myself with meaning or judging my poetic abilities.”

My go at the word ladder!

The exercises are fun, creative, and specific. But the real gems in here are the stellar insights into the creative process:

“One of the reasons I advocate so strongly for maintaining some creative pursuits in life is my belief that not knowing exactly how something like a finished song comes together creates an incredible magical feeling that always leaves me satisfied and full of wonder. There’s really no exact way to do it—it’s not like putting together IKEA furniture. It’s just about getting started on the right path.”

What I love about the book is that Tweedy is all about the wonder, but also about the nitty gritty of HOW you go about putting yourself on that path. I’m so glad he wrote it.

The other book that came out this year is Anais Mitchell’s ‘Working On a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown’, but more about that later…!

Metaphor in songwriting is alive and well, thanks.

Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 9.37.54 am

Many years ago, while living in LA, I heard a Big Shot Industry Dude (cue Beethoven’s 5th…) say:

“Songs shouldn’t have metaphors in them. I can’t think of a good song that has a metaphor.”

To my great relief, and with a giddy sort of rebellious delight, all of us songwriters gathered afterward, as if we all had sticky, sweet metaphors stashed in our pockets the whole time, and murmured things like “What was he talking about?”, or more generously, “Maybe he doesn’t know what a metaphor is…?”

I have come to think that it’s probably the latter. Metaphor, I am happy to report, is alive an well in songwriting, whether we’re talking about popular contemporary writing, or just beautiful writing in any era, any genre. Metaphor can be gently weaved into the fabric of a song, giving it glimmers of certain colors and textures as the song turns in the sun; or a song can be entirely based on one central metaphor, whose imagery completely defines the entire song.

For brainstorming metaphor ideas, I know no better resource than Pat Pattison’s ‘Writing Better Lyrics’ as an introduction, followed up by ‘Songwriting Without Boundaries,’ which contains a few months’ worth of writing exercises to help you generate interesting, fresh, and unique metaphor ideas.

But once you have an interesting metaphor idea, how do you flesh it out into a song lyric?

I’ve been looking at metaphor-based songs for a while now, and it seems to me that there are 3 distinct ways to use metaphors as the basis for a whole song:

  1. Direct Metaphor
  2. Symbolism
  3. Allegory

DIRECT METAPHOR

Right now, I’m going to focus on Direct Metaphor. So what do I mean by Direct Metaphor? A Direct Metaphor is when you clearly say that ‘X is Y’. ‘Love is Rocket Science’, (Rocket Science, Lori McKenna), ‘Love is still a magic act’, (Smoke and Mirrors, Sweet Talk Radio), ‘Belief is a beautiful armor’, (Belief, John Mayer).

Let’s take the first example here, ‘Rocket Science’, by Lori McKenna (and I could honestly talk for hours about the songwriting craft of Lori McKenna—she is amazing. If you want to know an album to ‘study’ the craft of songwriting, listen to ‘Numbered Doors’. Holy moly.) Here are the lyrics to the chorus:

Love is rocket science
What comes up it must come down
In burning pieces on the ground
We watch it fall
Maybe love is rocket science after all

 

The chorus itself starts out with the most direct statement of the central and primary metaphor of the whole song: love is rocket science. The first thing to note is that all the language in the chorus is related to rockets and science; every line here is an extension of that central metaphor. Once we’ve noticed that, we end up seeing it woven through the entire lyric. Here are the first two verses:

They say it ain’t complicated
Any fool can understand
Until the fuse is lit and
It blows up in your hand
It all looks good on paper
Step by step, you follow the plan
In the sky watch the desperate vapor
Til it blows up in your hand
The language in bold here is what Pat Pattison would call language ‘in the key’ of the metaphor. And the rest of the song has the same quality; the verses and bridge all contain language drawn from the palette of rockets, space, and science gone wrong.
But the far more important thing to notice is the very first line of the song, because it is the connection point between the metaphor and what the song is really about: “They say it ain’t complicated”. The point of the song is that love IS complicated, just like rocket science. This is where all the magic of metaphor happens: in the overlapping area between rocket science and love: IT IS COMPLICATED. IT CAN GO TERRIBLY WRONG. And finally…it’s still worth it in the end.
The reason this metaphor song works is because there is enough material in the overlap between the metaphor (rocket science) and the topic (love), and that is the key to a metaphor idea that has enough DNA to be the basis for an entire lyric. Some metaphors do not; they are interesting, descriptive and colorful—”her haircut was a church; she became sombre and restrained under its angles and spires”; “the conversation was a river; it flowed on the surface, but I was drowning in the undercurrent of tension”—but not expansive enough to describe a theme or topic for a whole song.

DESIGNING YOUR OWN DIRECT METAPHOR SONG

1. Pick one of the following themes or topics (or choose one of your own):

LOVE, WAR, LOSING A PARENT, AMBITION, GROWING UP, CLIMATE CHANGE, NOT GETTING WHAT YOU WANT, GETTING OLDER.

2. From the following list of nouns, try a number of ‘X is Y’ combinations.

SATELLITE, GARDEN, LANGUAGE, OCEAN, SEIGE, ARMY, MASTERPIECE, CIRCUS, CHURCH, POET, PRISON CELL, TYRANT, KNEE, SPAGHETTI WESTERN, CANYON, FARMER, VIRUS, VACCINE, TRAFFIC JAM, INSTRUCTION MANUAL.
For example:
Love is a traffic jam. Growing up is a spaghetti western. Climate change is a language.
Already your metaphor brain is buzzing with possibilities and ideas.

3. Taking your one metaphor, spend 5 minutes generating at least 5 different ‘connection points’, or ‘linking qualities’. That is: what are 5 different ways that your metaphor connects to your topic?

For example: Growing old is a church.
1. It is dark, empty, moldy, lonely…
2. It is bright, full of friends, and sacred…
3. It forces you to examine the life you have lived…
4. It becomes a mere recitation of habit…
5. It has a complex architecture…
A good metaphor song will have ONE MAIN connection point. There may be other related ways that you explore the connection, but they should be related to each other. So I wouldn’t be trying, in the same song, to say that growing old is both ‘dark and lonely’ as well as ‘bright and sacred’. I would pick one—the positive or the negative—and focus on that for this one song.
And then write another song that does the other one (!).

4. Create a word palette for the metaphor.

Pro tip: you can use the ‘related words’ filter in Rhymezone.com. Or even better, get yourself a Roget’s International Thesaurus (it is one of my go-to reference books!).
For example:
Church: heaven, gates, communion, waifer, church, cathedral, spires, gothic, priest, nun, god, gods, myth, prayer, bible, sabbath, holy, chapel, parish, worship, monk, confession, pews, vows, evangelize, preach, baptize, condemn, ordain, reform, convert, revelation…
Pro tip: What you decide your ‘connection point’ is can help you to filter the language of the metaphor. For example, if I were using ‘ocean’ as a metaphor, with the connection point of it being ‘open, wide, adventurous’, then I might end up with words like:
Horizon, tides, sailing, swimming, treading, lapping, splashing, breeze, open sea, navigate…
But if my connection point is the idea of it being ‘terrifying and unpredictable’, then I might prefer language that paints with that color:

crashing, rips, undercurrent, tidal wave, dumped, drowning, thrashing….

5. Spend 10 minutes exploring your topic (growing up) using language in the key of the metaphor.

Try to explore the nooks and crannies of your topic by being specific, situational and personal. You are on the lookout for unusual and unexpected ways that connect your metaphor and your topic, so go exploring!
For example:
Growing old is a church—as my grandmother grew into her last years, her body became a complex architecture of illness; its sharp edges thrusting through her veins and cells; her mind became a dusty hallway that echoed with ghosts…etc. But the building is not the belief. Her body was sick, but she was more than just the creaking doors and echoing halls. The knowledge, wisdom, and experience of her life had been transmitted out to us, her family, and I can still recite the lessons learned, like passages from a sacred text…etc

6. Build a Chorus idea, using an ‘X is Y’ statement. 

It may turn out that your ‘X is Y’ metaphor statement is not your first, primary metaphor that you started with, but something more interesting that emerged in Step 5. For example, my chorus might be built on this ‘X is Y’ idea (or in this case ‘X is NOT Y’):
She is more than creaking doors
Her life is louder than these empty halls…
A great example of this is Belief, by John Mayer. The primary metaphor of the song is something like “belief is a war,” but we never hear that statement. What we do hear are the secondary, or related, metaphors that use language ‘in the key’ of war:
Is there anyone who really recalls
Ever breaking rank at all
For something someone yelled real loud one time?
and…
Belief is a beautiful armor
But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching underwater
You never can hit who you’re trying for
and…
[belief is] the chemical weapon
For the war that’s raging on inside

Note that these are mostly verse lyrics, but the idea can be applied to verses or choruses.

I will also write another post soon that gives a lot more detail about writing great Choruses, as well as what makes chorus lyrics and ideas different to verses. Speaking of verses…

7. Build Verse ideas.

Use your favorite ideas and imagery to construct your verses. Just remember: The key to great Direct Metaphor songs is that the metaphor is clear. We know what the metaphor is, and we know what the topic is too. Metaphor isn’t an excuse to be vague. It’s a way to be even more specific and clear about how you want to explain how something feels. So make sure that you are still being clear about what the situation is, what you’re actually talking about, and how you feel about it.
Enjoy 🙂

Writing Tips from George Orwell

One of the most incisive essays I have ever read on the art of writing is the short and stunning piece, ‘Politics and the English Language‘, written by George Orwell in 1947. Here, Orwell described a cliche as a ‘dying metaphor’. Orwell follows up with a succinct list of guides to follow:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If it hasn’t crossed your desk yet, I highly recommend it. You can access it here.