On Songwriting: Shushing

Songwriting is mostly shushing. You gotta shush people in your head for a good hour or two.

“Dumb idea,” says one.
“Shush!” you say.
“Stupid,” says another.

There are about fifteen or so people badmouthing you and they look like your mom and dad. They look like the kid who sat behind you in math class and stuck things on the back of your shirt. They look like your relatives, people who you think would say, “That’s not really who you are or that didn’t really happen to you. I know who you are.”

Anne Lamott in her terrific book on creative writing, Bird by Bird, calls it radio station KFKD (for K-Fucked). It plays, she writes, twenty-four hours a day, in stereo. Out of the right ear comes self-aggrandizement and out of the left comes self-loathing.

And you’d think that once you become a published songwriter the validation of a paycheck for your songs would be the ultimate shush. But it isn’t. The voices come back and you gotta keep shushing.

The good news is there’s another voice that’s always there as well, except it’s just whispering rather than shouting like all the others. And you’ve gotta tell everybody else, “Stop! From now on you have to raise your hand to speak. Because I can’t hear my soft-spoken friend!”

And then it gets a little better.

But like a class of third-graders, they forget and you have to remind them all again the next day.