“When you’re writing a song, nouns and verbs will carry you right through.”
The first exercise in Jeff Tweedy’s How To Write One Song is called a “Word Ladder.” (Not Lewis Carroll’s word game.) It goes like this:
- Make a list of ten verbs related to some profession. (He uses a physician, I used a construction worker.)
- Write down ten nouns within your field of vision.
- Connect the words that don’t usually go together.
Here’s how it worked when I tried it:
Nothing that great, but that’s not the point. The point is to loosen up and play with language to get your brain going. Tweedy writes:
“I like to use this exercise not so much to generate a set of lyrics but to remind myself of how much fun I can have with words when I’m not concerning myself with meaning or judging my poetic abilities…. I find it almost always works when I’m feeling a need to break out of my normal, well-worn paths of language.”
“Nouns and verbs” is also the really basic advice I give to people who are trying out blackout poetry for the first time.
For example, here’s one I started by just underlining nouns and verbs that popped out at me:
And that led to this:
And seeing that, I realized with a little Photoshop cheat (is it cheating if there ain’t no rules?) I could “fix” it to this:
Not my best work, but, again, not the point. Plus, it only took me 10-15 minutes. (By the way, exercise #2 in Tweedy’s book is called “Stealing Words From A Book.” Stealing has, of course, always worked for me!) Give it a try next time you’re stuck.
Nouns and verbs, y’all. They’ll take you right through.
Related reading: “A bag of words” & “We are verbs, not nouns”