Saturday Songwriting: The 9-minute Songwriting Workout by Clay Mills

It’s been a weird week songwriting-wise for me. This is one way to say the time I normally use to put together this blog was eaten by the couple of extra shifts I was scheduled for at the restaurant.  Did I mention I’m writing this on a bus?  

That doesn’t mean I got nothing done, but I didn’t get around to tearing a song apart for this week’s blog. That’s okay. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you could probably find a song and do that yourself. 

I did learn about The Clay Mills* 9-minute Song Workout this week. It follows a lot of the same arc as the Word Splatter  And since, it’s only 9 minutes, I even tried it out a couple of mornings this week. It’s broken into three sections, or exercises.  

1) 3 minutes of Brainstorming Titles

Simply write down whatever ideas come into your head for three minutes. I used a game Pat Pattison talks about for this one. I’ll explain it after the example: 

Monday Morning Coffee
Coffee at Midnight
Midnight in the morning
Morning Comes too soon
Too soon for Letting go
Letting go and holding on
Holding on the Biggest One
So not worth it
Not worth never doing it again.
This time I’m going to Cry
I think that too, (Momma)
For crying out loud
Out loud and too quiet.

Pat Pattison’s game, which he took from a co-writer in Nashville, is to start with a title, like “Monday Morning Coffee,” then use that last word or phrase of that title to prompt the next title, “Coffee at Midnight.” Then you do the same thing with that title creating something like “Midnight in the Morning,” and so on. The usual brainstorming rules apply i.e. don’t think too much, definitely don’t judge, and simply write. 

2)3 minutes of Word Association:

For this exercise, I chose one of the titles I liked and built a string of items I associate with something from that title. I chose “Coffee at Midnight:”

Coffee, grinds, brew, Cream, sugar, roast, mug, cup, Joe
Mug, Handle, clay, World’s best . . .,
Grind, monkey, nuts, gravel, rocks,
Brew, witch, cauldron, fire, hearth

You’ll notice I started with “coffee” and then built my other lists off of words I associate with coffee. This keeps all my associations webbed around coffee as the central idea, like a word map, (or word splatter as I like to call ’em). 

3)  3 Minutes of Poor Man’s Rhyming Dictionary. 

The Poor Man’s Rhyming Dictionary is choosing a word and running through the alphabet ABC style to find potential rhymes and then writing those down. (Remember to include common two-letter combinations, things like “bl, br, ch,” and forth). 

Here’s my example: 

Night, bite, kite, fight, height, light, bright, might, right, tight, trite, sleight, wight, (Zeitgeist)

You can do near-rhymes if you like too: 

Bide, bride, chide, died, fried, guide, lied, ride, slide, whyed? vied

Then the third 3-minute buzzer went off, and I was done. What I like about this exercise, besides that it only takes nine minutes, is that it’s a great jump start. I could keep writing from here if I wanted and have a song draft in a couple of hours. Or if I do it daily (or sorta-daily), it’s keeping the rhyming and associative parts of my brain on their toes. 

Okay, that’s it until next week.  


*Clay Mills is a hit songwriter who’s worked with folks like Darius Rucker. He also started a songwriting website called “Songtown” with Marty Dodson.

The Prompt:

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

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