As writers, words are our raw building materials. As songwriters, we need to select the words that most engage our listeners. They must paint pictures, surface memories and evoke feelings in their minds.
The key to achieving this lies in sensory-based description. It is the skill at the heart of all literature, poetry and songwriting. When our senses are provoked, the words become filled with our own experience. So songwriting is about feeding the listener words that are going to attach themselves to their experience.
If we are going to get better at doing this, we need to practice it. This is where object writing comes in. Coined by Pat Pattison in his famous book ‘Writing Better Lyrics’, object writing is the most effective way to sharpen this most fundamental skill of sensory description.
It is very simple, you take an object and you write about it, staying as close to your raw senses as possible. It doesn’t so much matter if you drift off-topic away from the object than that you stay close to your senses wherever your drift to. It is an exercise in sense-bound free association.
Our tendency is to write predominantly visually, but the sounds, smells, tastes and touches of our descriptions are equally, if not more important. Pattison also includes two additional senses that are at the heart of songwriting. Organic sense relates to our inner bodily feelings. We feel our hearts beating, or the butterflies in our stomach. Kinaesthetic sense is our relation to the world around us. Like when we step off a boat and the ground isn’t stable, or we watch the train next to us leave and think we are moving.
Object writing is a workout for our minds. To see improvement exercise little and often. Making a ten-minute habit for it each day is the most effective way to hone our sensory muscles. Starting is the hardest bit, but once you overcome this hurdle it will start to flow. Once it does start to flow, you have to force yourself to stop. If you keep going, all the additional energy will become a bigger hurdle for starting the next day, whereas if you forced yourself to stop you will be eager to get back to it.
If you manage to make a habit of this exercise, you will find when it comes to your “real” writing, it begins to dance and sing, and become more and more alive.
If you would like to be sequentially emailed these exercises, starting at exercise 1 and receiving one each weekday, please sign up here.
The first two weeks are plain and simple object writing. Each day an object will be posted for you to write about.
Day 1: “What” Writing - Sky
Day 2: “What” Writing - Bathroom Mirror
Day 3: “What” Writing - Umbrella
Day 4: “What” Writing - Bouquet
Day 5: “What” Writing - Movie Theatre
Day 6: “Who” Writing - Waitress
Day 7: “Who” Writing - Priest
Day 8: “Who” Writing - Cyclist
Day 9: “When” Writing - Graduation
Day 10: “When” Writing - Six in the Morning
Day 11: “When” Writing - Loved One’s Funeral
Day 12: “Where” Writing - Park Bench in the City
Day 13: “Where” Writing - Hotel Bar
Day 14: “Where” Writing - Canoe on the River
The next four weeks become more metaphorical. There are a series of exercises designed to map the language from one domain onto a different domain to see the world in new and even more engaging ways.
Day 15 - Adjective Noun Collisions 1
Day 16 - Adjective Noun Collision 2
Day 17 - Adjective Noun Collision 3
Day 18 - Noun Verb Collisions 1
Day 19 - Noun Verb Collisions 2
Day 20 - Noun Verb Collisions 3
Day 21 - Noun Noun Collisions 1
Day 22 - Noun Noun Collisions 2
Day 23 - Noun Noun Collisions 3
Day 24 - Noun Noun Collisions 4
Day 25 - Linking from Target - Policeman
Day 26 - Linking from Target - Teacher
Day 27 - Linking from Target - Traffic
Day 28 - Linking from Target - Handshake
Day 29 - Linking from Source - Deep-Sea Diver
Day 30 - Linking from Source - Guitar Solo
Day 31 - Linking from Source - Magnifying Glass
Day 32 - Linking from Source - Afternoon Nap
Day 33 - Linking Both Ways - Broken Glass
Day 34 - Linking Both Ways - Sleeping Late
Day 35 - Linking Both Ways - Vacation
Day 36 - Linking Both Ways - Falling in Love
The final week deals with metric forms specific to songwriters. We apply the same object writing techniques but are constrained to a particular form each day.