Saturday Songwriting: Life on Mars? Part 3

The Fearless Challenge is built around prompts. But what’s a prompt? In writing, prompts are ways for us to gain access to our memories and emotions. A time-honored prompt is to start with the words “I remember. . .” and start writing, following your memories where they take you. 

I think of prompts in a specific way, which comes from Pat Pattison’s Object Writing (as well as Clustering or Mind Mapping). That means the prompts I create nearly all have an object at their center. 

An object is a thing. A physical thing; something we can touch, taste, smell, see, or hear in the real world. 

Lots of concepts are things, but I find they make miserable prompts. Writing about a word like “oligarchy” or even “love,” it can be hard to find a handhold. That’s because these are things that happen in our heads. 

You can’t smell love. You might feel it, but not in the way you can pick up and hold, say, a rabbit. You can’t taste, touch, or see these words, and that makes them difficult to write about and difficult to wrap our monkey minds around. 

The memories and senses aroused by an object are a portal. You can use that objects for diving into almost any topic in the world. 

Starting with the object “toilet paper,” I might end up diving into a night tossing toilet paper into the trees on a friend’s front lawn. I also might end up being handed a roll through the crack of a door when in need? (If that isn’t love, what is?)

Here’s a more specific memory. A group of us are sitting in the office of our Youth Minister back in high school, and she’s explaining a game in which anything can be a metaphor for God. The things she suggests get more and more absurd objects until she arrives at, you guessed it, toilet paper. 

Objects are also perfect fodder for mind mapping or clustering. For these exercises, you place a word at the center of a page and build a web of associations out from them. One thread using toilet paper could look like this: 

toilet paper – youth group – pillow fights – ultimate frisbee – crucifix – rose – Grateful Dead 

Another might look like: 

toilet paper – Tree – sweet 16 – crepe paper – midnight – Trans Am 

The threads you’d create starting with toilet paper would likely be different, which is perfect. We each bring our own associations that an object prompts for us.

Now that I’ve scrawled a few of these threads onto a page, the real fun begins. 

I can explore what happens when I connect words from each thread, building metaphors, similes, and plain old compost to mulch away at with my mind. 

Here are some examples:

The Trans Am is a midnight rose. 

The tree was a crucifix of crepe paper. 

Ultimate frisbee is like a pillow fight for The Grateful Dead [fans]. 

Are any of these ideas amazing? Maybe not, but they are all evocative in their own way. The prompt has connected my memory to youth, pranks, humor, high school, and these are all great places to start a song. 


The Prompt:

Here’s a link to David Álvarez’s art. Find out more about David’s work here.

The Musical Idea:

Here’s a downloadable pdf of the worksheet above:

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