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  • Writer's pictureJessica McQuistin

Song-Doodling (Novelty & Privacy in the Creative Process)

Photo by Tony Phan on Unsplash

I have a million little ideas percolating right now...Ok maybe more like five to seven...Definitely more than two. I'd be able to remember them all if there were only two. (Maybe that's why I stopped at two kids?) So yeah...I have multiple miniature thoughts flitting around like fireflies, glowing and fading, then reappearing again in different locations. I can vaguely see the collection of them but I can't follow them all and I certainly have no idea where they're going until...there they are again!

Perhaps if I had just one such thought, I would be able to pin it down in words and flesh it out into a complete blog post. But that's just not where I am right now and I'm alright with that.

Instead, I'll share a bit about one such "firefly." She's painfully shy and not ready to be on full display so I'll respect that and only speak of her essence. (She's nodding in the background that that would be okay with her.)

So here goes:

I've been dabbling in song-writing lately. Out of the blue, I've had the urge to put words to music, or to create melody lines and then find words that complement their shape and feel. Depending on how you know me, this may sound obvious. I love words and I have a musical background, so why wouldn't I write songs? Yet it's something I've never really done and don't really know how to do. I may abandon this interest just as quickly as I've found it but at the moment, I'm enjoying this new creative playground.

At first, I didn't want to intimidate myself by saying "I'm going to write a song" so instead I started a page in my journal with the title "Song Doodling."I've always liked the character of the major 6th interval, so I used that as my starting point. If you're not sure what a major 6th sounds like, there's an ascending major 6th at the beginning of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" and a descending one at the beginning of "The Music of the Night" from The Phantom. I chose the descending version, and (sitting in the park while my kids played one afternoon,) I thought about what kinds of words seemed to fit those two notes, in terms of syllables and emotional quality. The first word that stuck was "curious." From there, more words came to me, along with more notes to continue the melody with. Eventually I sat at the piano and figured out which chords would fit beneath the emerging melody and which key the song should be in. I'm leaning toward E-major, since it seems to fit my vocal range the most naturally. So that's a little glimpse into my process (which I've been making up as I go) so far.

On one of our recent long summer drives, while the kids dozed, I told Jamie (my husband) about my new interest in song-writing and we had a really nice chat. I told him that I had some lyrics in mind and a possible melody, but I didn't have words for the last three notes of the melody, which, in terms of musical and poetic hierarchy are going to be pretty important. I used the example of the words "let it be" in the song "Let It Be." Kind of crucial, right? So I was commenting on how absurd it felt to not have the most crucial words yet, but to have a lot of other ideas about the song already in the works. Then he told me that "Yesterday" started out similarly. Apparently, Paul McCartney woke up with the melody in his head one morning, and used the words "scrambled egg" for the first few notes, as a placeholder until he finally came up with "yesterday." We shared a laugh over this and I felt tremendously encouraged that if "scrambled egg" could become "Yesterday," it's alright not to have lyrics all figured out right away.

So, why am I writing about this if I'm not even willing to share any of these musical ideas I've been toying with?

Well, one thing that makes me unlikely to do something is if I've never done it before. Yet, novelty - with all its duck-out-of-water awkwardness and the humbling sense of incompetence that it highlights - has a way of tapping into my creativity and joy in a way that familiar experiences just can't touch. So if you need permission or encouragement to try something new, even if just for the fun and frustration of it, here it is.

I also want to advocate for private art-making of any kind (journalling, sketching, dancing, singing, etc.) with no definite plan of ever making it public. There is a magic in the process and privacy of creating something just for yourself, whether or not it ever gets released into the world. And that in itself is enough.

So go ahead and follow your fireflies, even if just for your own private pleasure.


If you enjoy pondering the topic of creativity, consider checking out the Creating Confidently blog by my talented (and highly creative!) cousin, Emily Newell. She also maintains an inspiring and active Instagram feed. I may need to ask her for some pointers on creating video content...Now, that would be a novel experience! ;)


I also want to acknowledge that I'm reading a gem of a book right now, Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider. Some of the ideas that came out in this post were undoubtedly influenced by this book.

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