Ripped paper and scribbled notes... this is sometimes what the writing process looks like for me.
One of my worst fears as a singer/songwriter is someone asking me for tips on songwriting. Weird, right? You'd think I could easily give a few pointers given that I've made a lot of original material over the last few years.
However, I simply don't have a straightforward strategy I use to make songs. I recently read a book that talked a lot about the writing process and they gave several exercises to help craft lyrics. Things like journaling on a topic or object. Or maybe starting with a universal concept like "family" and building it from the base up. But when it's all said and done, songs that I try to force out tend to suck. I can sit down and go "I really want to write an upbeat song today about crashing Limos and not caring", but what I usually get is a headache and a desire to clean my house, go for a walk, or pay my taxes. The guitar is left in the corner sulking and the notepad remains white.
I get the need to practice your craft (and I feel guilty that I don't write more for the sake of exercising my brain). Cranking some songs out can shake off the cobwebs and help prime you for more solid songwriting. But when it's all said and done, an annoying fact remains: inspiration doesn't come when called. I can go months at a time without a real inkling of a song. Sometimes an idea will be floating around unfinished, but it is waiting for something to spark it fully to life. It's like a quantum particle. It's in a state of existing and not existing, waiting to be defined by some sort of observation. Geeky similes aside, I don't understand how these things decide to be. But they always do...eventually.
A few years ago, I met legendary guitarist Regi Wooten in Nashville through a mutual musician friend (Her name's Nalani and she's an amazing bassist!). He said something that really stuck with me. He said "The song already exists. It's just waiting for the right person to unlock it." When those songs sit on my mind's back burner, I see them as patiently waiting for the right catalyst to set them off (the weather, an interesting object, a cool phrase, a strange encounter with someone...who knows!?). It's just a matter of time before they burst out, happy to be released from the ether.