3 on Thursday – 3/30/23

Thanks to this week’s sponsors: 

Hey folks,  

I hope you’ve been having a good week! Here’s what’s in this week’s 3 on Thursday newsletter: 

  1. Motivation for Creatives: The Calendar Hack
  2. Liver and Onions: From Children’s Song to Adult Ballad
  3. On Songwriting: AMA: “Can you talk about using mundane, boring life as a source of inspiration?” 

Ok, here we go… 

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Motivation for Creatives 

The Calendar Hack

First of all, do you keep a calendar? Do you stick to it? Is “songwriting” on there?

Every morning at the same time each day, “solo songwriting” is written on my calendar. I almost never write songs just because I feel like it. I do it because it’s on my calendar.

You might be thinking, “That seems so Type A. What about the muse, the inspiration, all the mysterious stuff about songwriting?” In my experience, muses tend to keep a tighter schedule when I do. I imagine them saying among themselves, “Hey, gang. Espe’s really showing up, let’s make sure we show up, too.”

Sure, they don’t show up every day. But when they do, I’m more prepared to connect. It’s like I’m standing in the batter’s box with my bat ready. I’m not in the dugout chewing bubble gum or still driving to the ball field.

But while I’m on the subject, let me ask you: What came first, the inspiration or sitting down to write? The chicken or the egg?

Correct. Neither. And both!

We assume people are in a good mood when we hear them start to whistle. But that’s not always the case. You can whistle to put yourself in a good mood. You can smile to make yourself feel happier. And the same is true with songwriting. You can show up without being inspired and find yourself becoming incredibly motivated.

Your calendar helps make that happen. It’s your cue to start whistling.

*Side Note: Don’t think you have to sit down for two hours and complete a song. Start with just five minutes. Set a timer. You’d be surprised how far you can get on a song or project in just five minutes a day. I wrote my latest album Up North in small increments over several years.

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The Story of ‘Liver and Onions’

How a Listener’s Words Changed the Course of a Song

Back when I used to tour a lot, I would test out new songs on my audiences. Nowadays, since I don’t tour much, I’ve started using my Secret Songs Playlist for Patrons. “Liver and Onions” was originally a children’s song about a kid who was grossed out by his grandpa’s meal choice at a diner. At the time, I had been reading a lot of Shel Silverstein to my kids, and I thought I might write a children’s album.

Then, one day, a listener and friend named Stephen responded to the song. He said, “It could definitely be on a children’s album, but I could see it on one of your other albums too. I love the memories and the thought behind them.”

Those words stuck with me, and eventually, I realized that “Liver and Onions” was the perfect addition to my latest album, Up North. The album is all about my experiences growing up in northern Minnesota.

I find it amusing how we often think we know where we’re going, but we really don’t. Sometimes it takes others to help us get where we really need to be. I suppose that’s why it’s so important to share what’s going on inside of us. Holding it in doesn’t allow others to help us find our way.

So, thank you, Stephen. Your words of encouragement helped this song (and me) get to a better place.

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On Songwriting: Ask Me Anything

“Can you talk about using mundane, daily life as a source of inspiration?” -Greta 

Sure! Great question. Well, here’s a story that might illustrate the point.

The other day I was watching my son and the neighbor kid on the tire swing. I started thinking about old tires and how they’ve been down so many roads. I let my mind wander on that thought for a while. Then I had this funny idea about two tires on a car having a conversation about the afterlife. It occurred to me that a tire swing is kind of like heaven for a tire. After all the years toiling on hot roads, they finally get to kick their feet up under the shade of a tree in the company of children laughing and singing.  

I’m not saying that’s the greatest metaphor in the world. But up until that point, I’d never thought of heaven and tire swings as being similar. This is a simple example of paying attention to what’s going on around you––keeping your songwriter antenna up for unique metaphors happening in front of you.

You’re probably doing something today that you think is mundane. But that’s a great litmus test. The stuff that makes you bored is probably because you know it so well. But do others? Think of it from their perspective. Be surprised by the little details. Maybe you’re an electrician, and you’re very familiar with the attics of people’s homes. What’s it like up there? Write a song called “Attics” or “Insulation” and tell us how they represent some aspect of everyone’s life. Maybe you work the drive-thru window at McDonald’s. What do you notice people doing? What is it that you’re constantly doing that feels similar to something else in life. Are the same people coming through each day? Are there coworkers who get on your nerves? Tell us how a drive-thru is a metaphor for life in some way.

Ok, that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading! 

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts as they help me improve this newsletter.


P.S. You might be interested in… 

  1. Birthday Cameo
  2. 1:1 Songwriting Mentorship
  3. Secret Songs Playlist for Patrons