They sound the heat of a thousand mistaken choices
They hear the babble of a thousand shaken voices
They taste the bitterness of a thousand unheard noises
They know I am lost amongst a thousand unknown faces
My heart beats ahead of me
My spirit stays behind
I am looking for your doorway
I am looking to find some peace of mind
Looking for the love, the love that is once in a lifetime
The fountain of youth can claim its victims with its truth
Just find me the fountain of love —
That Kamasutra intimacy where you are my hand, and I am your glove
Cobblestone streets, so narrow and oh, how they wind
Cobblestone streets, so dark and so unkind
They sound the beat of a thousand mistaken hearts
Cries of a thousand heart-marked darts
They taste the bitterness forsaken love imparts
They know I am lost amongst a thousand false starts
Kamasutra, they say you can only find, once in a lifetime
Let me be straight up from the get-go: I began writing in school because I was capable. I began writing again as an adult out of necessity to help my mind sort through hellacious times. Over time, it became a need. Every night, for years, exhausted at the end of a long day as a single mother trying to raise three young children by herself while working full time, I would curl up in bed, and half-asleep, begin pouring out a day’s worth of feelings and thoughts. Doing so enabled me to sleep, but it also enabled me to understand and process what had just happened and over time, helped me figure out what to do next and what to let go of. It also enabled my mind to float to dreamlike fantasies where color, life, joy or pain came full circle, with whatever resolution I wanted at that moment.
Poetic writing was cathartic, it was fantastic, and for me, an exercise that resulted in poetry turned into voice, and voice turned into song. Over time as well, I got better at it. Over time, there became a blurred line between poetry and songs. And today, my work often still hovers between the two. If you are interested in becoming a better writer as much because you love the process as the result, then I hope reading on will be helpful.
I have been lucky to share myself. But it has not always been easy, and I have been put to the test professionally for insisting that my art be valued as equally as other things in my life. But as a writer, I stand by the process. And it is that process I share with you below.
1. Knowing why you write provides the baseline to be a good writer. To be an effective writer, you need to do your homework about yourself. And as trite as it sounds, I have found it true that it is the process of discovering yourself that creates the poetic moments: when you come to understand why or how an event, person, or conflict affected you, the others around you, and what benefit can be had from even the worst of circumstances. Discover yourself and you will discover a cache of universal concepts that will unite you to others, and most importantly for your own well-being, to better unite you with yourself.
But the value of all of this to the writer is that you must actually write it all down. Exactly how you feel, at exactly that moment. For me, these moments can come and go very quickly. If you lose the moment to write it down, it may be lost. So train, plane or automobile or bedstand, take the time to write it down. In these moments, you will have the best opportunity to dissect events and feelings you associate with them and be honest with the answers. Maybe you will not like what you discover. Or maybe you will find out you have a round of resilience within you never realized. As a writer, what do you possibility get out of this exercise? Two things, at least: (1) the clarity of self-recogntion through honest self-reflection that will make you better able to connect with your readers; and (2) some damn good written thoughts that could be powerful enough for a baseline for a lyric.
2. Understand the power of love as the ultimate juxtaposition and irony. Juxtaposition is a literary technique in which two or more ideas, places, characters and their actions are placed side by side in a narrative or a poem for the purpose of developing comparisons and contrasts. Juxtaposition’s effect in song is a quick build of dramatic tension, and some form of tension is what hooks a mind into paying attention. Why is this so? At base, no person wants tension in their lives, but we all need it. (That’s juxtaposition!)
Tension makes us feel alive because it provides an obstacle of some kind that requires resolution, and sorting through the tension to resolve things gives us purpose, and achieving purpose, makes a human happy. That’s a pretty complicated way to be happy, but it may also explain why the search for it remains so often elusive, and why the search for happiness is so universal. For some, love is foreseen as the ultimate happiness, where life between two souls is no longer fraught with tension, but an essence of two souls, without juxtaposition, without tension, unified in thought, purpose and action. Which is likely why “true” love is fleeting for many, or nonexistent for others who actually need to maintain tension in their lives to fulfill their purpose. Yet, that does not mean that those of us driven with purpose are not looking for true love. It just makes it very difficult to find love, or keep it.
In short: we want one thing (true love), but we cannot live without the need to constantly look for it (search for true love). The two are incongruous, the two are in juxtaposition, and thus, the irony of the juxtaposition is perhaps why love is made for song. So write about love, just do it with a value proposition of its contrast to happiness, and you will have a much more interesting write. Please note: try to minimize the use of the overused word “love”. It is often not ironic, and there are so many aspects of the emotion that trying to hone in on the exact emotion related to love is usually a much better result. When you do use it, make sure it is for the proper emphasis on the word, and for good reason.
3. Innuendo over explicit. Innuendo in the written word makes us think. It heightens our awareness and makes our brains function, enjoying the tension between knowing that the author has a meaning, and not being quite sure what it is. It awakens a journey, tasking the brain with a puzzle. And if that puzzle has to do with love or sex, it is assuredly, a more tantalizing puzzle. In contrast, explicit words shock us. A temporary zap that quickly fizzles as there is nothing to figure out, no journey, no work to be done by the brain. And too much explicit material simply dulls the brain; consistent layers of shock eventually just dull reaction until there is none, and no one is really listening. So awaken your listener’s brain. Use innuendo and minimize explicit words. It keeps you classy and interesting as a writer, instead of the opposite.
4. Enable personal to become universal. Your likelihood of successfully connecting with your audience is much higher if you approach your writing from a honest posit of personal reflection about why and what you write. Let your guard down and write from your soul. Do not try to outdo anyone. This is just about you, and your reflections. You can go back and refine the content time and again, but make sure it is who you are, at your very base, and write about what holds value to you. If a topic holds value to you and you approach it honestly, there is a much higher likelihood readers or listeners will feel connected to your content. And that is where your success will lie: honest and personal reflection (within reason) is ultimately universal in its appeal.
5. Use grammar and proper words. There is little more demeaning to erudite, juxtaposed or ironic thoughts than using poor language or poor grammar to express them. If the old addage “You are what you eat” has resonance with you, beware, “You are what you write” has equal resonance for me as a writer. Saying something well includes basic use of elementary school grammar, and proper and creative use of real words that both sound good, and lend valuable meaning to your thoughts. Not using grammar nor the best possible word to describe something simply and directly loses your audience. The thought may be exciting, but if executed without care for basics, I assure you your audience will not care either.
Janice Kephart has nearly 50 published tracks. Her poetry has been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Poetry Award. You can find her music on all major distribution outlets, including iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and Spotify and you can find them here.