Putting ideas into words is a writer’s greatest thrill. He or she will never pass up the opportunity to weave together strings of words to craft an elaborate storyline, regardless of the form. Songwriting, just like writing prose or poetry, takes the process a few steps further, adding a musical element to the mix.
This week we sat down with Jacqie Brooks, fashion/beauty enthusiast, editor and fellow lover of words, to talk about a genre of storytelling we haven’t covered here before: songwriting.
Ideas come from everywhere. Where do you go when you’re in need of inspiration?
In every facet of life, I tend to just find inspiration in everything. The latest song I’m working on sprouted from hearing a George Strait song on the radio on my drive back to my house from my family’s house. And George Strait songs remind me of being a teenager, and so the song is about being 14, before relationships were stressful.
But I also will see people doing things and create a story in my head off of it. I also get a lot of inspiration from other artists. Growing up, I was obsessed with Kate Voegele and Sara Bareilles. Their songs are so personal and clever.
When did you start writing songs? How did it come about?
I think I actually started writing songs around the sixth grade—they weren’t very good. But there was always something I got out of listening to music. It wasn’t necessarily that I just liked listening to music, but the fact someone wrote this song that portrays a story and a feeling was really cool to me. The composition of the words was so pleasing to me, and still is. So I started writing things down.
What’s the first thing you do when you get an idea, or a set of lyrics in your head?
Writing for me happens one of two ways, usually. I either think of words that I like or I think of a tune that I like. So if it’s words, I immediately write it down—on a napkin, in my phone, on the back of a receipt … And then if I have time, I usually will try to come up with other lines that could potentially go in the song.
If I have a melody or tune in my head, I try to form some kind of wording that makes sense, and I will write it down and actually hum or sing it into the voice recorder in my phone. I am a horrid singer, so absolutely no one hears those. But they are there. And I will revisit them when I’m ready to finish or work on the song.
When you’re writing songs, what do you usually write about?
Okay, everyone gets on Taylor Swift about it, but I probably write most about relationships. Honestly, it’s so easy. It comes so naturally. You’re in constant relationships—not necessarily romantic relationships. And it’s easy to build another story off of one reality. I’ve been trying really hard to write those fantastic “finding yourself” songs, but it’s a lot harder to do that and make it relatable.
How has writing helped you along as you’ve gotten older?
For me, my songbook is my journal. It’s my life. Even if I didn’t finish something, I flip through the pages and see where I was in life at a given point. I do journal, in more of a prose format. And that’s great. But to me, reading through my songs is when I see myself at my most creative or hurt times in life. I get to go back to that and either realize why I was so hurt by something and how I learned to overcome it and where I am now or I get to see myself being so happy and enjoying myself so much to write it down.
Do you ever revise any of them, or just leave them be?
Sometimes I revisit and work on them, particularly if [they are] unfinished. Rarely do I go through and change something that’s finished. I usually have worked on those long enough to be satisfied with them.
How do you think telling stories through song lyrics differs from telling them through an article or a book?
There are a lot of people who don’t like to read, but who doesn’t like music? The stories [in] songs take a situation everyone can relate to and turn it into something short and catchy and memorable.
I also think it’s a lot more challenging to write songs than some of the other forms of writing. You’re more limited. You don’t want a 20-minute song. Also, you want it to make sense. Rhyming is harder than you think!
What do you love most about writing?
I’ve just liked to write for as long as I can remember. I’ve always known it’s something I’m good at. And I love the satisfaction I get after finishing something and being happy with the end product.
Has anyone ever given you a piece of writing advice you’ll never forget?
I recently sat in on a songwriting session with Victoria Banks and Emily Shackelton in Nashville—they’ve written songs for Sara Evans and other country stars—“Gotta Have You” and “Can’t Stop Loving You” for example. They were talking about what they do when they get stuck, and they both said, “Just write.” Eventually something is going to come to mind, and something is going to work.
Whatever your method for bringing your ideas to life, we believe you can do it! Take a few moments today to look back at some of your old work to inspire you to create something new tomorrow. And of course, if you have any more songwriting tips or revelations to share with our readers, or songwriting questions for Jacqie, leave a comment!
Image courtesy of Jacqie Brooks.