Tips on Writing Well: Head, heart, loins and feet, says Mark Ceaser

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Saskatchewan singer shares six secrets on songwriting success

Hey all you songwriters, novelists, playwrights and poets, listen up! If you’ve ever sat in front of your laptop (or typewriter for all you hipsters who think technology is so yesterday) and stared at the screen for hours, absentmindedly playing with your bellybutton while drinking cup after cup
of coffee, all the while cursing your empty brain, void of any interesting thought or image and
thus unable to fill a single line with witty dialogue or a meaningful lyric…*deep breath*…

Veteran Saskatchewan musician Mark Ceaser sat down with me to reveal his deepest, darkest
songwriting secrets. Here are his favourite writing tips for all those who suffer in wordless, thoughtless, uninspired silence.

CHANGE UP YOUR SETTING

Get out of your dimly lit, ice-box of a basement suite and go for a walk. Winter in Saskatchewan
“sucks hippo dick,” as playwright David Mamet might say, but let the change of seasons be an
inspiration to you instead of something to complain about. “A change of setting, a change of
season, any kind of change” inspires Ceaser, who attended a songwriting retreat at Emma Lake
last September and came back with new ideas and several finished songs. Many writers find
taking a break from the computer and appreciating nature gets the creative juices flowing.

LISTEN TO NEW MUSIC

“Actually I get a lot of lyrics listening to music I’ve never heard before. One of my favorite
things is to put on headphones and turn the volume down just enough so I can’t really hear the
words. And then I’ll sit there with my laptop and I’ll type out what I think I hear. So it’s kind of got the same rhythm, same tone to it, but it’s just kind of gibberish… and then I’ll save it,”
explains Ceaser. He later returns to his gibberish lyrics, scans through it, then picks out
interesting lines to work with. This exercise can benefit all writers looking for different imagery
to use as a starting point for a story.

PRETEND YOU’RE SOMEONE ELSE

We’ve all been inspired by another writer’s pure genius, and maybe once or twice felt a little
jealous of their complete mastery of language and imagery. So why not try to emulate a master’s
talents? “I’ve purposefully tried to write a song that already existed, like same sort of chord
structure, similar theme, thinking I was going to sound like Neil Young… or Bruce Springsteen,”
said Ceaser. “I’ve specifically sat down and pretended, ‘Ok I’m Bruce Springsteen, I’m going to
write a Bruce Springsteen song.’ And then when it’s done it sounds nothing like a Springsteen
song… but it at least gives me something to focus on, and it helps me pretend, you know, ‘What
would Bruce write about?’”

DON’T LET THE TRUTH GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD STORY

“You draw on something real, so that there is a real connection there… then exaggerate the hell
out of it. Make it more of a universal thing too, so it’s not too personal that somebody else
couldn’t connect to it.” I have a good friend who lives by this rule. He has the best true stories,
like the time he fell from a tree and saved himself by pulling out his pocket knife and sticking it
in the trunk. Or when he awoke to a burglar breaking into his house, chased him down the street
in his underwear, tackled him, and then sat on his back until the cops came… In Ceaser’s case, he
wrote a song about his grandfather, who was the storyteller in his family. “Some of the facts are
true…and some of them I changed slightly just to make the song flow better… When I sing it… I
still know that I’m singing about my grandfather, but the feelings and details behind it are not so
specific, so that somebody else can feel like I’m singing about their grandfather too.”

REMEMBER THE FOUR AREAS

Head, heart, loins and feet. These are the four areas that can be affected by songwriting. Are your
lyrics intellectually appealing, do they make your audience think? Do they tug on the
heartstrings? Is your song sexy, lusty and busty? Will it make people get up and dance? “A hit
song will have at least two or three out of the four elements.” Bonus points for anyone who can
make the audience simultaneously laugh, cry and dance around while making out.

ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD

If all else fails, try Hemingway’s technique: “Write drunk; edit sober.” It may sound a little
counterproductive, but it actually helps free your inhibitions. You may even stop thinking about
the fact that you can’t think of anything and just write. Even if everything you come up with is a
heap of spelling and grammatical errors, there may be the kernel of an idea planted among the
manure. Just avoid overindulging, or you’ll be editing the inside of your toilet bowl masterpiece
the next day.

Mark Ceaser is going back into the recording studio in December to work on some new material.
Visit his website if you’d like to hear the product of his inspiration! http://markceaser.com/

– Photo courtesy of MarkCaeser.com