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New Writing Insights

Time Yourself! Seventeen Minutes—in Blog Posting and Songwriting

My friend and colleague Pat Pattison and I were sitting around the other day with a couple of other songwriting teachers, eating Pat’s delicious fish soup and a piece of Stilton to die for. (That’s the telling detail that puts you in the room, the descriptive paint that drips down and saturates the rest of this somewhat abstract post with sensory detail and “compelling verisimilitude.” By the way, that metaphor comes from Pat too.) We were discussing object writing, an associative, sensory writing technique Pat discusses in several of his books. He first introduced the technique in Writing Better Lyrics (Writer’s Digest Books, make sure to get the 2nd edition). This single exercise has dramatically transformed the writing practice of probably thousands of songwriters.

I’m know the creative writing world has developed hundreds of writing exercises, games, prompts, etc. I’d always assumed that Pat, having been trained in literary criticism and theory, had adapted some general creative writing techniques and exercises to the world of songwriting with object writing. But he claims it is truly his invention—and was invented specifically for songwriting. In particular, and somewhat to my surprise, he pointed out that timed writing—especially the idea of practicing object writing by writing to different lengths of time (10 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute)—an integral part of the technique, is an aspect he developed.

One creative principle I like to use is “steal just a little bit.” You could call this the “right of recision interest scam principle.” (There’s a story there I’ll tell another time—have a time limit here.) The Principle: You can steal from a source but don’t steal too much from any one source. Then you will be meta-threaded and post-modern, not simply derivative.

So I decided I would “steal” the time constraint idea from object writing.

I’m new to this blog posting thing—although a couple of years learning to write cryptic Facebook status posts have helped me prepare I guess. But length is my problem. One idea leads to another and before you know it… Well, once I was actually called “the man for whom everything is connected to everything” and I’m not sure the person who said it was entirely paying me a compliment. So I need to learn to write shorter blog posts.

 So—timing! (Didn’t Jack Benny say something about that?) My new Blog Posting Regime: I shall turn on the timer for exactly seventeen minutes in the morning to write a blog post. Believe it or not, that’s probably too long. (After all, the timer has been going while I’ve been writing this, and it’s clearly already gone on too long!)

This blog post has taken exactly seventeen minutes to write. Done! Oh – almost forgot… actionable conclusion!

Challenge: Seventeen Minute Songwriting. Write a song in seventeen minutes exactly! Go! (I’ll try it too.)

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