“The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key. The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us – we start editing ideas before we have them.” Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist
I love technology. I had one of the very first “Macintosh 128k” computers in the mid-1980’s people turn into fishbowls now. We used something called a “floppy disk” that held tiny amounts of data compared to what we all have in our smart phones now. We were all on something called “dial up,” too, that was so slow it would make anyone stroke to wait that long today.
But despite all the unbelievable things we do with tech, does it really help us be better songwriters? I mean, other than research, organization, and watching Taylor Swift vids, does your iPad actually help you write songs? I think the answer is a qualified “Yes and No” kind of thing.
For programmers and melody writers, Garageband, Logic Pro X, Cubase, and other music software programs are indispensable when it comes to getting the beats down that make a song current and competitive. No question tech is essential when it comes to recording your tunes. But what about stripping it down to a well-crafted lyric and an awesome melody? Still need a laptop?
I’d like to take just a minute to argue that a good ol’ pad and pencil might be just the thing that could unleash some buried creativity inside you that the screen may not ever get to touch. It might be just a nostalgic whim, but who knows? Next time you’re wanting to write or dig deeper into your own emotions, pick up a pencil and think about these three possibilities.
#1 Writing with a pencil is tactile. Okay, so typing is tactile, too, but in a different way from writing words out by hand. In my song coaching, I often recommend that aspiring writers get a pad and pencil and write out in their own handwriting the lyrics to the songs they most admire. I believe this helps writers feel what great lyrics should feel like and look like if they had written them instead of someone else. What if you had written, “In Christ alone, my hope is found…”? Wouldn’t that just feel good? I have no clue if Stuart Townend typed that line first or wrote it in his journal, but it just feels so good when I write it in my own handwriting, savoring those classic words and training my mind and muscles to remember what writing great words feels like.
And, speaking of journals, journaling your thoughts, hopes, prayers, and song ideas is probably the NUMBER ONE discipline any serious songwriter must develop. Typing them into your phone with your thumbs is wonderful if you’re out and away from home and don’t have a quiet spot in the coffee shop to reflect on this great idea that just hit, but the daily discipline of journaling is irreplaceable for identifying and developing your song hooks and lyrics.
#2 Scribbling and doodling can be therapeutic. In her article on PsychologyToday.com called Doodling Your Way to a More Mindful Life, Dr. Cathy Malchiodi writes, “To me, doodling is purposeful action that [is] more than mindlessness. Having watched a couple of thousand doodlers in art therapy sessions over two decades, they often find self-soothing in their mark-making.” What songwriter hasn’t needed a little “self-soothing” when faced with a major writer’s block? Malchiodi goes on to make some interesting correlations between doodling and getting in touch with deeper creativity that every songwriter may benefit from.
“Doodling is not just a way to ‘think differently;’ it’s a way to ‘feel differently,’ too. From emerging studies we are learning that art expression may actually help individuals reconnect thinking and feeling, thus bridging explicit (narrative) and implicit (sensory) memory. The wonderful thing about doodling is that it is a whole brain activity—spontaneous, at times unconscious, self-soothing, satisfying, exploratory, memory-enhancing, and mindful. In essence, doodling (and drawing and painting and making things in general) can be a self-regulating experience as well as a pleasurable road map of thoughts and ideas.” (© 2014 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, accessed March 25, 2016, at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/arts-and-health/201401/doodling-your-way-more-mindful-life)
#3 A change will do you good. To borrow a phrase from Sheryl Crow‘s A Change Would Do You Good, sometimes even a small change would do you good in your songwriting, too. Have you ever felt like your hands go to the exact same chords on the keys when you sit down to write? Do you find yourself strumming the same tired pattern on the guitar over and over, wishing for something fresh and new? Change it up. Don’t write on the keyboard or guitar. Just write in your head and then go pick out the melody and chords on your instrument. Sometimes our instruments hold us back and maybe sometimes our tech holds us back in the same way because we find ourselves stuck on a blank Word .doc and not feeling the creativity flow through our arms, down into our hands, and out through a simple pencil.
You might be surprised what could happen if you put the phone, the tablet, and the laptop on the charger for a while and just get out a pencil and paper. Kind of like getting up to go for a walk gets your blood pumping and the oxygen flowing into the deeper places in your lungs after sitting a long time, picking up a good old #2 pencil might do much the same for your creativity.