Adrift on the River Content

What happens when songwriting, content and sensory deprivation meet head on?

I have a friend who is a folk singer. You aren’t going to hear him on your radio but he is a veteran of performing on the road. One thing Steve and I have in common is that we are both writers. While hanging out with Steve, I learned that he faces the very same demons that we do battle with in writing marketing content. Who knew that writing an e-book or a ballad would be such a similar process?

One night Steve and I were communing with our good buddy Jack Daniels, and I asked him to be more specific. What steps he takes to write a great song, from how you get the subject thru developing engaging lyrics. The entire enchilada. Inquiring minds want to know.

With some “gentle persuasion” from Jack, Steve opened up, and shared his thoughts. I hadn’t realized it, but the worlds of content marketing and songwriting are a lot alike.  Primarily, both rely upon a well told story to capture and hold the audience’s attention. I learned that he used a three “act” or verse approach to laying out his story, similar the beginning, middle and end that good content stories require. Both also require a heavy reliance upon detail and imagery to capture and fuel the audience’s imagination.

When I asked Steve how he came up with the inspiration for his songs, he took me through the process. Sometimes song ideas would just come to him, he’d sit down and write them on the spot. Sometimes he has an idea, but is too busy do something with it right then. To my pleasure, I learned that he also uses a notebook to write down these type idea starters. Anytime he needs a subject, he opens the book and reads the notes. If he can expand on anything of the thoughts inside, he adds it to the the entry.

The most interesting thing that I learned was how Steve proceeds to develop new song ideas. He lays relaxing on his back in a small, dark bedroom. He calls this his “work shed”. It’s a space where he can focus on his thoughts without the interruption of phone calls, and/or electronic devices. In the dead quiet, he contemplates the topic,  slowing his breathing to a slow repetitive pattern. This allows him to achieve maximum focus

Trying It On For Size

Sensory deprivation evolved from a military intelligence “black bag” experiment in the forties to being a tool used by the “turned on” generation of the sixties to enhance their “psychedelic experience” while exploring their inner selves.  Supposedly, the power of maximum focus is at its height of clarity, as the brain becomes less and aware of the surroundings.

I decided that I would give it a try for myself. Following a similar path to Steve’s, I focused on bringing my breathing into control, taking long, deep inhales and releasing them as slowly as possible. Eventually, both your mind and body come into sync and it is time to proceed. Immersing my mind into a universe of possibilities, which I visualized in my mind’s eye. With topic in hand, I chose to report on how this method worked for me, as possibly others in the writer’s craft can benefit from this alternative practice.

So, what was it like? Did it work better? Did it work at all? Hold on, hold on. One at a time please.

It did work for me. I felt foolish early on, but once I got the repetitive slow in – out breathing rhythm down and I began to relax, my mind just took over center stage and became the star of the show. I focused on my mind becoming a giant whiteboard with four buckets on it. You can call them Beginning, Middle, End and Miscellaneous. As I considered the story, I put the ideas in the bucket for the appropriate part of the story it would appear in.

Upon completing my segmentation of the information, I begin to prioritize the contents of each bucket by each item’s importance, and list them into a timeline of when they will be presented. Repeating the process for remainder of the buckets, provided me with a great layout from which to write the story.

Once you leave the confines of the room, you have to sit down right away and write down the story outline you have mentally constructed. The longer you take to do this, the fewer finer points you may be able to recall. The rest is finishing it off as you normally would.

It was a fun experiment, and I do believe that I will use it when I am able. Being away from the desk and computer was a huge change. My biggest obstacle was falling asleep. You get that in-out rhythm going, you start to relax, and before you know it, you start to drift a little too deep to be functional for work.

To hear the rantings of other voices on the same topic, try these two out:

Seven Ways to Sharpen Your Focus

by Daniel Goleman

Why Focus Makes Us Smarter & 8 Ways to Sharpen Yours

by Jason Selk


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