EffortPosted: July 10, 2012
I don’t know why I write.
Really, I don’t. I’m not particularly good at it, I’ve never tried to get any better, I hardly self-edit, and most things come out in a stream-of-consciousness mess that I absently try to tweak into some kind of structure once I get bored.
I don’t… love writing. I don’t think I do, anyway. I just kind of do it. Comforts me. Always has.
Some people seem to like my writing. That’s always confused me, because I don’t really consider it writing. I talk with my fingers to a computer screen and post it to a message board, subreddit, blog etc. I imagine myself having a conversation with someone and adding what little creative flair I can muster. Talking’s easy. You might not always come across well, but the act itself is straightforward enough.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s genuinely humbling when people say nice things about my writing, but it’s a little bit like putting your empty bottle of Irn-Bru in a bin and having someone thank you for it. “I would do this if you weren’t watching,” you want to say. “It’s automatic and I didn’t put a great deal of thought into it. I’m not sure it deserves your gratitude.”
From time to time, I’d get the notion of being a writer. A real writer. When the mood struck, I’d get myself a notebook of the physical variety and aim to fill it with scribblings and wonderful ideas. I’d get about a quarter of the way through after writing about what it’s like to be on a bus and then throw it on the pile.
Pictured: the pile.
About nine months ago, it became clear to me that “How the Whole-Hearted Live” was pretty much going to function as the end of the Hadley’s Hope project, which was my half-hearted attempt to Be More Productive. Or, alternatively, my attempt to be a musician without being heard. The idea was that I’d put everything I wrote online, even though it wasn’t of the highest standard, and through regular updates they would eventually become better. I didn’t have to worry about studio time, practices or recording restrictions because I could write and produce everything on my laptop. Or, alternatively, I didn’t have to worry about anyone hearing me get things wrong.
I’d started writing How the Whole-Hearted Live as an exercise to see how well I could arrange a song around a two-chord vamp. Quite pleased with the results, I posted a rundown of the process to a musician’s subreddit and was ripped to shreds. There was trouble with the arrangement. The sounds were too cheesy. One guy said he listened to ten seconds and refused to go any further because parts were clashing. I was fuming. The parts didn’t clash that badly. I’ve heard way more dissonance in pop songs than what I’d produced. I couldn’t believe people would be so closed-minded about listening to what was obviously an amateur writing exercise.
This was around the time I started to realise people don’t want to hear amateur writing exercises.
Pictured: the digital representation of my heart breaking.
I went back to the demo, and broke it apart. I tore out most of the parts and replaced most of the sounds. I didn’t care. It was just an exercise after all, not anything I was attached to. In one ten hour session, I wrote transitions between each section and wrote new, tighter parts, smoothing everything out as well as I was able to. Attention was paid to as many details as I could recognize. It was just an exercise, after all.
When I compared the two versions, I couldn’t believe how different they sounded. The bulk of the changes were trivial, but they added up to the entire sound. I still wasn’t attached to it, but I began to wonder: how would the music that is important to me sound if I paid this kind of attention to it?
I dropped the Hadley’s Hope idea altogether and resolved to learn how to play the guitar. Back to basics, you know how it is. I’ve been playing guitar for sixteen years without ever really learning how to play it. I didn’t like it so much, it was just a means to an end. The only instrument I really love is the bass guitar. But I figured if I could write a song people wanted to listen to using just my voice and my guitar, that’s a hell of a solid foundation to build upon.
So I started paying attention to things. Accuracy. Phrasing. Expressiveness. All that stuff I thought would just take care of itself once my arrangement and songwriting skills were up to par. Making sure I play things exactly the way I want to instead of affecting a ‘close enough’ attitude. It’s incredibly difficult, and I’ve got a very long way to go, but the results so far have been profoundly satisfying. I’m more excited (rather than frustrated) by writing and playing music than I’ve been in years and it’s all the result of some stranger having a go at me.
I’m thinking it’s time I started applying that kind of focus to other things in my life. I’ve always been able to make music on the guitar, but I’ve only just started loving it.
I’ve always been able to write. Maybe I could start to love it, too.