Every time I complete a lyric, I write it in pencil in a yellow legal pad. I use pencil just in case what I feel is finished at the time turns out to be not so complete. If I’m stuck on a piece and trying to generate ideas, sometimes I’ll freewrite, just fervently putting whatever words come to mind down on paper for a period of minutes. Freewrites are in pen, because everything, even the mistakes, are relevant. But the record of all my completed lyrics: pencil; because the final version deserves to be perfect, even if that takes a few “final versions.”
The digression about utensil utilization aside…I handwrite my lyrics because the act of reading them as words on a page, dissociated from their melody, allows me to find grammatical, metrical, syntactical trends in my writing. For example, while nearly all of my songs are in common time with progressions of four to eight measures in length, the majority of my verses are comprised of three-line phrases. But by far, the most curious trend I’ve noticed in my songs is my repeated use of the rhetorical question. There are over two dozen instances of this in my catalog to date. “What do I know?” “Was I such a fool to think our conclusion called for more than a nudge and a wink?” “How can I be expected to stay inside when the rest of the world lies out of my head?” “Does my face betray a sense of wanderlust?” The list is rather lengthy.
The more I wrote and the more I kept unconsciously incorporating this device, the more I struggled to figure out why I seemed predisposed to write this way. It seemed I could only get through so many definitive statements before tempering my certainty with a question.
I’ve come to believe this is an extension of my inherent timidity. I’ve struggled with shyness for nearly as long as I can remember, and have always gone out of my way to avoid confrontation.
Ironically enough, at the time of my discovering the recurrence of rhetorical questions, I believed I had all but transcended the meek mindset I’d held for so long. At the time, I had just graduated high school, had just released my first album, and was beginning to perform my original music in public for the first time. Being out of school, I was only ever in social contexts by my own choosing. This, coupled with the temporary bravado lent by a stage and the ability to say “I have an album out” with an almost straight face, allowed me to construct the illusion I had, miraculously, cured my timidity, that I had “come out of my shell,” as they say.
And to some degree, I had. Only a year prior to this, the thought of myself singing in the car, let alone on tape, let alone in front of people, would have seemed an impossibility. The fact I had released an album of original music to the world and was able to perform it marked substantial progress.
But to say I had “come out of my shell,” I realized as I found yet another rhetorical question in yet another lyric, was inaccurate. I hadn’t come out of my shell, I’d just opened up a window or two, granted myself the means to sneak out every now and again. I still shy from conflict, I’m still all but useless in new social settings, struggling to say anything, I still doubt each step, and I still hesitate to call myself an authority on anything. If you remember, I opened the first installment of this series with a Kerouac paraphrase: “I haven’t spent enough time learning to profess to teach anyone anything.” At first glance, this poses a bit of a problem. Being a songwriter entails seeing merit in your perspective, packaging that perspective into linguistic and musical forms, and making it available to the world at large, because you possess some universal truth. There is a certain presupposition of cockiness required to be an effective songwriter.
And yet, here I was, writing in doubt as much as I was pontificating. I couldn’t even be wholly confident in worlds of my own creation. Try as I would to deny it, I was and remain a timid individual, and my songs carried the evidence.
Perhaps this can be attributed to an irrepressible, if not misguided, optimism, but I choose to see this as a comfort, rather than a detriment.
As I stated above, I am an inherently shy person. And that my songs bear hallmarks of that seems to me to suggest I am being genuine, that I am telling my perspective in the only authentic way a shy person can: with self-doubt and without offense.
So I suppose if some moral is to be walked away with after this ambling, self-effacing treatise, it’s that your writing will show exactly who you are, regardless of who you’d like to be, regardless of how you’d like to sound.
Do with that what you will, but as for me, I plan to turn into the skid and embrace my natural linguistic inclinations and be as honest, as genuine as words can bear.
Do you think maybe then this introvert may stand a chance at saying something?