The Art and Skill of Writing a Song
A Right-Brain Exercise
Here is a technique for creative writing – most often used by writers (as opposed to songwriters). Clustering is especially good if you need focus for your song creation and only have the vaguest idea of what you wan tot write about. (The inventor of clustering is Gabrielle Lusser Rico. If you would like to read more about it, she explains it in the book Writing the Natural Way.)
Clustering is a way of tricking the left brain into silence and using the right brain to come up with your own unique overview of a subject. The way to do it is very simple, but it won't work if you break any of the simple rules.
- Write the subject of your cluster in the very middle of a clean page of paper. Center it up and down as well as left and right. Make a very heavy circle right around it.
- Look at that word or short phrase and when another word or image comes to mind, write it down close to the circle. If that idea or word or image leads to another one, write it down after the first in a string leading out from the center. That idea may (and probably will) lead to yet another idea or word or image, so put it in the string, too. Be honest. Write it down, no matter how absurd, illogical or awkward it might be.
- Eventually, your mind will hit a blank. Recognise when you’ve hit a blank and don’t over-think it; remember we don’t want the left brain to take over.
- Next, look at the central subject again, and let another string of associations come. Repeat with other strings until your brain won't produce any more strings. Work quickly, move on.
- Think about the associations your brain has produced. There will be a natural unified point, conveniently divided into parts (by strings), for you to find later with your left brain.
- Next to each string, write a line that you think that string might be about. Do they look like they might be the threads of the verses of your song? If not, is there an obvious hook line staring at you? A chorus? Circle or arrow ideas that might go together.
- Take one string and develop it into two or three lines. Keep going as long as things are flowing. As soon as you start actively ‘thinking’ to make things fit or make new ideas come: STOP!
- Put your cluster sheet away (you may want to start another one). Leave it for an hour, a day, a week – but do come back to it.
- When you come back to it, look at the whole cluster, don’t try and focus on any one part. You may be very surprised by what you see. Your left brain will come in to play and start telling you what your right brain was talking about. You now have a visual map of a whole lot of subject matter that came from your subconscious. That’s a lot of resource for your left brain to organise into verses and choruses.
- Do not interrupt the cluster once you begin it until it is finished. If you interrupt it, your left brain will engage to try and work out where you were up to.
- Be brutally honest with whatever comes to mind. If you don't write down what comes, the process will stop. Keep clusters private if you need to but make them completely honest and edit out sensitive stuff later if you have to.
- Clusters are not meant to be shared with or make sense to other people. They may not even make sense to you. While clustering may form the basis of a songwriting session, it's primary use is as an exercise to develop your right-brain agility.
Next: Developing the Idea
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