Fearless Challenge, Shame, Songwriting, Writing

Planning for the Fearless Challenge

I’ve wanted for a while to put together an intake to help people prepare for the Fearless Songwriting Challenge. I’d forgotten about “The Ship It Journal,” Seth Godin’s workbook to help people suss out the resistance they’ll find in working on a project, and helps them plan ahead to beat it.  Here’s a link to the free PDF: “Ship It” Journal by Seth Godin

It’s not quite perfect for the challenge.  There’s lots of group focused language, and we’re mostly writing our songs on our own.  I took that language as an opportunity to think about the committee of voices in head that hold forth as I’m writing a song.  You can see how I worked through it and adapted it below.  

It took me about an hour and a half to complete the journal, try it out for yourself, it gave me unexpected ideas, inspiration and confidence. 

You may be saying; “I don’t have an hour and a half to fill the journal out.” I’d respond; “Are you sure you’re committed writing a song every day for a week?  That will take an hour to an hour and a half every day too.” Probably only filling out just the bits on planning your time out and sussing out resistance would take about 45 minutes to an hour.  

The biggest sticking point for me was when it asked me to list all the tasks I necessary to completing the project. When I read that I was close to telling myself I’d finish filling the journal tomorrow. You know how finishing things tomorrow goes.

If you do try it out.  Let me know how it goes.  I’d love feedback on what works and what doesn’t work.  

And. . . Here’s what I did:

(Please note, the following wasn’t edited, it’s a journal entry I’m sharing in the hope it will be useful to see what I did).

Project:  Fearless Challenge

Ship Date: 7 consecutive days, 7/28 – 8/3 

Reasons for not shipping:  

“I don’t have anything good to say”
“I don’t have the time”
“I stubbornly refuse re: D. Burns”
“I don’t care enought”

The project is to run the Fearless Songwriting Challenge which requires: 

Writing seven songs, one each day, for seven consecutive days
Posting prompts each day at 11:00
Checking in and listening to five songs a day, after posting prompt

When does it ship?  

Sun 7/28 Writing: 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM Recording: 9:30 – 10:00
Mon 7/29 Writing: 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM Recording: 8:30 – 9:00
Tues 7/30 Writing: 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Recording: 10:30 – 10:00
Weds 7/31 Writing: 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM Recording: 9:30 – 10:00
Thurs 8/1 Writing: 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Recording: 10:30 – 10:00
Fri 8/2 Writing: 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM Recording: 8:30 – 9:00
Sat 8/3 Writing: 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Recording: 10:30 – 10:00

Who is responsible for shipping it: Timmy Riordan* <–That’s me

What am I afraid of?  Writing bad songs, failing to write, but more afraid in some ways of writing bad songs, being judged poorly, people thinking I’m a hack writer, a dilettante, that people won’t like me or my songs. 

What are the distortions? All or Nothing, Fortune Telling, Mind Reading, Hidden Shoulds: I should be a good writer, I shouldn’t work at something that I may not succeed at well, I shouldn’t enjoy a project or have fun doing something if others might judge me for it and think I’m foolish, I shouldn’t write bad songs, I should only write fully formed songs filled with the beauty, pain and catharsis of the human experience. 

Pick some edges:  

Open
Easy, (i.e. low bar for success)
Responsibility (i.e. I’m responsible to finish a song each day)
Give
Real
Fast (i.e. let’s write some upbeat songs!)
Cheap (Money-wise it costs nothing, time-wise I’m investing 2 – 3 hours a day).
Proven (Writing for seven days straight works)
Safe (The emotional risk is a distortion, and I’m learning to handle those).
Disposable (In line with keeping the bar low)
Mesh (We work in a cohort, we’re here to support each other).
Sold
Honest
New
You

Who is your Customer

For the songs, me
For the Challenge, the cohort, i.e. other participants

Who are the key influencers, gatekeepers, and authorities? 

In a sense, Soph, John, the folks I care about that I currently (sometimes) share my songs with. 

Does anyone else matter?

My censor, the imagined throng of critics that inhabits my head. 

Can I ignore them?  I can let them know I’m doing my work and that they need to give me space as I’m doing it. 

Questions and ideas for the devil’s advocate: 

It’s not enough time
I can’t write a good song in an hour
No one important will like a song written this quickly
People will laugh at me

–These are Fodder for Daily Mood Log/IDing the Distortion/Daily Mood Log

Who can stop this project:

Mostly me, I could get embarrassed and let my projections of what others thinks guide my decision to quit.  Mind Reading/Fortune Telling combined with emotional reasoning are important distortions to watch for.  

Who else can stop this project? 

I mean Facebook could blow up, or go down, that would be inconvenient.   

Who is essential to our success? 

Internally, In this case, I think it’s getting the Censor on board, maybe my taskmaster as well.  The thing to remember with the censor is we both have great taste. I’m going to write some mediocre songs during this project, that’s ok, they’re all first drafts and the only people who will see them are other people who care enough about songwriting to write bad songs themselves in the service of writing songs they love and care about. 

Externally, who are my supporters?  John Linn–can I find an accountability partner from the cohort as well?  

What does perfect look like?  

Dear god, perfect for this project is terrifying and overwhelming–laboring over each line, hand crafting and transcribing every melody, I’m not sure I can even consider it. 

What does good enough look like? 

Seven sets of lyrics with chords dangling off them precariously, and a one take video of each one so I can reconstruct each of them at some point further down the road. 

List every Task–

Well, I’ve listed my writing times,
Posting the prompt
Sitting down to write
Brain storming: usually a word map or word tree
Drafting lyrics
Playing guitar and singing/mumbling through a melody while recording to find the song
Typing up lyrics
Doing a one take recording
Posting to Youtube
Posting to Facebook 

Who becomes my competition? 

The people who post songs which I like better than my own.  

What does failure look like? 

Not writing the song–officially even not posting isn’t failure. 

Things that can feel like failure:

No likes or comments
Being unhappy with my finished song
Feeling like my song is shitty
Other people writing better songs than I do
I think that’s most of it. 

The Bradman Test:

That guy’s a jerk.  He’d write effortlessly good songs and sing them in his effortless tenor with a disarming nonchalance that makes the whole thing seem way too easy.  Also, he’d look good doing it without even having to try. 

But I’m not Bradman, what will I bring to this project that someone who is truly gifted might not? 

I’ll bring striving and effort and care.  I’ll bring my cranky baritone that I tend to feel insecure about but does the job just fine, even well sometimes.  I’ll bring my skewed, wry sense of humor and my sense of the human condition, and the vulnerability and hope that I think might make it just a bit easier for everyone.  I’ll bring my grit and determination to work through and finish the project.  

Plus it!  List ten things you could add that would radically or subtly improve your project.

  1. Move some of my chord changes off the 1 beat
  2. Add a note, or melodic embellishment I’m not quite comfortable with 
  3. Do the same lyrically, add something I feel just a bit insecure about. 
  4. Keep the BPM at 110+ 
  5. Write a double verse or two 
  6. Write six verses for every song
  7. Add an extra beat to a measure or two 
  8. Record the whole thing in a professional sound studio 
  9. Invite a piano player to cowrite everything with me
  10.  Start with drum tracks 
  11.  Write killer bass lines

Minus It! 

  1. Write all my songs on just one string 
  2. Write songs using just a drum track
  3. Make all the verses a single line, or a single word even 
  4. Defenestrate rhyming from my songs
  5. Give up on writing lyrics out, just pick up the guitar and start singing
  6. Forget the guitar–just hit record on my phone and sing
  7. Don’t bother with chords
  8. Write a blues every day 
  9. Use only two chords all week. 
  10.  Only write over a simple bass line
  11.  One note song 

When was the last time you did something for the first: 

This morning actually, I reached out to a stranger to ask permission to use her images.  She was happy to share and it felt great. And yes, I forget sometimes about the rush of doing things for the first time.  (Also, working through this journal is a first). 

Turn Pro 

Emotional labor is doing the work you don’t feel like doing, because that’s the work. As Steve Pressfield points out, the act of turning pro is a conscious decision to do emotional labor. If you were a pro at this, how would you do it differently?

I think I’d just aim to lose the drama, i.e. I’d do the work, and forget about the belly aching–though I’ve been a pro a serving tables for ages and belly aching comes with the territory. So, I’d do the work despite the belly-aching.  

Shame? 

“You’re not as good as you think you are…” Are you waiting to hear this? Afraid of it? What would it feel like if you did? Make a list of what you might hear instead of that if you actually shipped, shipped something artistic and generous and world-changing:

Great work, Tim!
That really helped me.
I’ve never written seven songs in seven days before
I wrote one of my best songs ever this past week.  

Take a bow 

You earned it. 

Reserve this page for describing what happened when you shipped. If you want to write down the truth in advance, if you want to describe the end before you begin, go ahead.

 

David Burns/CBT, Shame, Songwriting, Writing

Messing up the song and changing it is the goal.

Editing is hard for me. I kinda hate it. It’s on my mental to do list daily, but I spend my time on other things. I learn David Rawlings licks. Re-binge “Breaking Bad.”

I’m learning I can melt my resistance to tasks I avoid, (tasks which scare me), if I give them some attention with a Daily Mood Log. I pulled one out and wrote “editing a song” as the specific event causing me strife.

I circled the emotions on the page which come along with editing a song for me: Anxious, frightened, inadequate, incompetent, alone, foolish, stuck.   

I wrote down all the negative blurts and thoughts as well, the first of which is; “I’ll mess up the song,” as well as things like, “it won’t be any good,” and “it will end up obvious I stiff and obvious that I workshopped it.”  

Soon I was looking for thoughts to crush the negative thoughts that have been holding me back this came to me:

“Messing the song up and changing it is the goal.”

Soon I was at work screwing up the song I wrote to improve it.

The Mood Log:

IMG-0673


 

Shame, Songwriting, Writing

Shame Resilience & Creativity

I’m supposed to be writing.  Instead I’m in the stacks of the Robbins Library and scouring the library’s catalogue for books on my phone.  Every book I’ve looked up in the online catalogue is checked out. Each time I look up a book I’m hit by a pang of procrastinatory guilt, akin to swallowing a Dorito the wrong way.  My conscience and the library are aligned saying: Do your work.

Many people are compelled to clean when staring down a blank page and a deadline but my bed is already made and the dishes are washed, so I’m compelled to the library.  I’m desperate to know what other people have written about getting work done. I’ve also read basically every book there is on the subject. Hence, guilt, like a Dorito lodged in my throat.  

The thoughts and emotions which drive procrastination have many names (which are capitalized auspiciously): Gremlins, Monkey Mind, The Censor, Resistance. . . Here’s one which is rarely used, but Brené Brown has worked tirelessly bring into style: shame, (no capitalization–shame would rather less attention).  

I think it’s time we talked about creativity and shame and in the shame department, Brené has done us all a solid.  She’s researched it, defined it and talked to people people that have figured out how to defeat it, or at least keep it from inhibiting them from time to time.  Brené describes these unicorns as people with high shame resilience.

But wait!  There’s more!   

She’s gone one step further.  She’s distilled their tactics into four simple guidelines we could emulate.  If you’re a person struggling with how to get your best work out into the world, I think you’ll want these tactics in your tool box.

Brené says shame’s messages boil down to two themes.  Note these, you will be tested:

  1. “Not good enough”
  2. “How dare you!?!”  

If you don’t already recognize these messages here’s the test: Think of something intend to do, but haven’t.  Something that would be fun or exciting, or challenging. Maybe it’s something change your life or your world or your day for the better.  Soon some thoughts will likely arise that complicate your acting on it–what are these? Packed away in those messages will be some variant of “Not Good Enough,” or “How Dare you!?!”

Ok, so here are the tactics:

The four traits of highly shame resistant people:

1.They know what shame feels like for themselves (the physical symptoms that signal its onset), and they know what situations and thoughts create shame for themselves.  

2.They reality check messages and expectations that fuel their shame, i.e., are the messages and expectations fueling their shame even remotely possible to achieve?

3.They reach out and tell their stories to people they trust.  Brené says if shame was isolated in a petri dish, the thing that would cause it to grow would be secrecy, silence and judgment.  The thing that causes it to shrivel like a slug dusted with salt? Empathy.

4.When they encounter shame, they call it out, they call shame what it is: “shame.”

Let me go through how I think these apply to my writing.  

  1. Know what shame feels like and what situations create shame.

For me when I sit down to write, my most common shame trigger is the thought that I don’t I have anything to say.  I feel scared. My belly pits out and tumbles into the void of infinity. My breathing stops. If it’s really bad my armpits may tingle.  The world takes on a surreal quality, like stumbling into a posse of evil fairies in a dark forest.

I get the same damn feeling when I get to a point in my writing I know what I want to say but I’m scared to say it:

Maybe that thing is too real.
Maybe it’s too embarrassing.
Maybe someone might actually read it, like my mom or my girlfriend.  

This, my friends, is how shame feels when I write.

Note well: it isn’t something to run from. It’s something to know about and learn to work with so I can do my work done.

  1. Reality checking messages and expectations that fuel shame

Here’s my least sustainable belief about writing: That every word and every line I write should arrive perfectly formed; Michelangelo’s David, but without any rock to carve away from it.     

I know that when I sit down to write, I’m going to write some shit, which as Pat Pattison says, is the best fertilizer but I carry the irrational belief that my writing should be perfect anyway.  

My writing routine is more like getting out of bed.

I wake up groggy. I stumble into the kitchen not-so-quietly desperate for prefabricated coffee.  My mouth is pasty and my eyes blurry. The day will be fine eventually, but it rarely starts pretty.  My Writing is like that and I tell often tell myself that’s “not good enough.” Note again, this isn’t necessarily something to fix, which could just be shaming myself from a different direction.  It’s knowledge to act from. My writing process needs some time to warm up, so I’ll keep writing.

  1. Shame resilient people reach out and tell their stories to people they trust.  

Here just writing can be a helpful first step.  Just writing a thing down can sometimes alleviate much of the shame of it:

“I hate this”
“I have nothing to say”
“I don’t want to do this today”

or any of a million other variants are fine and time honored ways of starting a day’s writing.

Also, it’s vital to have friends, peers and compatriots you can talk about how much writing, (and anything else that comes to mind) sucks.  The important thing is, the person you share this information with has to understand too, and not judge you for it. If you don’t have a safe person in your life now, seek one out.  The world is filled with Facebook groups and real world support groups which can places to find someone you trust.

4. The shame resilient call shame “shame.”

This simple but can be deceptively hard.

I remember the first time I really started talking about shame. I’d just started listening to and reading Brené, and I had a friend I knew I could trust to hash this stuff out with and I still nearly choked on the words.  The good news is it gets easier and easier as you go. It gets less scary.

Epilogue:  

There’s a secret about shame, vulnerability and art.  It’s something a friend and I tripped over in one of those epic four hour conversations about life and learning that mostly seem to happen when you’re in high school or college.  

I was thirty-five at the time.  

Almost universally, the songs, the art, even the personality traits that people value most in me (and that I value most in others) are the songs, art, and characteristics I (or they) feel squirrelly about.   The things I’m most embarrassed about, the things I feel shame about, my vulnerabilities are almost always tied up in my best work, and consequently the work I most want to hide.

But somehow they slip out of me.

I share a song in a Fearless Songwriting week. I played a song once at an open mike. Then people keep asking me to play it. It wasn’t meant to be a real song. It was just a joke.

I don’t know why creativity seems designed this way but I’ve talked to a lot of songwriters and to a lot of people and they all agree it’s true.  This makes doing the work of reckoning with and coming to terms with my shame even more important. Our fears and our shame are inextricably tangled with our best work. Learning shame resilience, means my best work won’t pass me by because I was too ashamed to write down, to share it.