Oh, hello again anxiety and imposter syndrome. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s good to catch-up but it certainly isn’t a surprise that our paths have crossed once more. How delightful that we bump into each other again at an event that I’d been looking forward to for weeks…
To add some context to ensure that the above doesn’t seem like the meandering words of a madman, my good old friends (or should that be adversaries?) reared their ugly heads again last Sunday.
Last year was a pretty good one for me, certainly in terms of taking significant steps toward achieving some of my goals. In terms of writing, I started this blog and published my first book on Amazon. Over the Christmas holiday, I was talking with my daughter about what I’d like to achieve this year. Continuing with this blog is a given, whilst making a concerted effort to grow the audience, in addition to writing more books (certainly 2 more, hopefully 3). A new goal though was to have a crack at writing some songs. I’ve harboured a desire to do this for some time now and it feels like the right time to actually get pen to paper. My aim is to write 52 lyrics this year (one per week) prior to attempting to add some musical structure to them next year.
Having had this chat, it was uncanny / a coincidence / serendipity that no more than a week later, I saw a Facebook advert offering an opportunity to spend some time with one of my music heroes. I wasn’t aware that The Guardian run creative masterclasses on subjects such as writing short-stories, writing for children, how to turn your passion into a profitable business, creating engaging video, and many more, but they do, and here was an advert inviting me to spend a day at a lyric writing masterclass with Chris Difford from Squeeze. For those of you not familiar with Squeeze (is there anyone out there not familiar with Squeeze?), they are the quite brilliant British band behind classics such as Up the Junction, Cool for Cats, Labelled With Love, Take Me I’m Yours, Tempted, Hourglass, Black Coffee in Bed, Goodbye Girl, Pulling Mussels (From the Shell), Another Nail in My Heart, Some Fantastic Place, and many, many more. Chris is one half of the main song-writing duo, in that he writes the lyrics whilst the equally gifted Glenn Tilbrook writes the music. For me, they are one of the greatest song-writing duos of all time. The music isn’t based around standard chord progressions which are regurgitated across many songs these days – there is complexity and brilliance there – whilst the lyrics are just on a different level and, again, far from generic and cliched utterings.
With opportunities such as this rare in life, I booked a ticket and got up early last Sunday to drive down to London for a 10.00 start. I was genuinely like a child on Christmas Eve – excited, a little giddy to be honest, and looking forward to what the day had to offer. Then I got to King’s Cross and the anxiety hit…
To be honest, it has been worse before, but it was still there. As I walked to the Guardian office, my mind started to work overtime. What if the other 17 people on the course were accomplished musicians, far more talented than me? What if I was completely out of place? What if I’d wasted my time and money and wouldn’t get anything from the day? What if everyone else there would look down on me and judge me without really knowing me? The same old crap, really. As I said, I’ve had it worse in the past but it was enough to bring out a mild sweat and a dryness to my lips.
Then we got into the room and the feelings subsided a little due to me becoming excited again at being in the presence of greatness. Chris provided a brief intro and then we went around the room, with each attendee saying who they were, where they were from, what their music experience was (if any) and what they were hoping to get from the day. It was at this point that the anxiety disappeared, seemingly barged out of the way by imposter syndrome, which pretty much clasped its hands around my throat and didn’t loosen its grip for the whole damned day. The majority of the other attendees were eloquent (some might say plummy…), with the vast majority of them from the south of England, whilst here I was – a face made for radio, a voice made for silent movies, coming from a working-class Northern background and sounding more like a Coronation Street extra than someone capable of writing songs and fitting into this environment. Then, as the day progressed, I got a little more comfortable in my skin, largely by trying to think ‘screw you all – this is who I am and I have something to contribute here’.
That approach worked at times whilst at others not so much, though I certainly wasn’t wasting this opportunity. I should add here that the other attendees were thoroughly decent people – we all shared a common love of Squeeze and were ultimately there for the same fundamental reason; to glean as much as we could from a song-writing legend – but it didn’t stop my mind wandering during the day. The imposter syndrome was there throughout but I didn’t let it affect my enjoyment of the workshop. In fact, it actually helped on one or two occasions. During a lyric-writing exercise, others were trying a little too hard (as far as I was concerned) to be poets rather than song-writers. They were writing what they saw as really earnest lyrics, channelling their inner Wordsworth, Keats, and Tennyson rather than Difford, Lennon, McCartney or Dylan. That’s absolutely not for me and I stuck to what I consider to be everyday subjects written using everyday language rather than flowery prose; an approach which I felt was validated by attracting some nods of approval when we discussed our ideas. But hey – each to their own and all that.
I did, however, raise a wry smile when Chris basically distilled the art of song-writing down to two really simple yet fundamental requirements – a need to write something on a daily basis, and a need to write with confidence. Confidence? Oh, that’s just marvellous – as far as this God-like genius is concerned, I need the one thing I’ve struggled with all my life to become a songwriter! Marvellous – I guess I’ll just head over to E-Bay right now and buy a bloody big box of confidence to help me on my journey…
However, upon elaborating on that, Chris’ words made perfect sense. Here was a writer of some of my favourite songs admitting that he has numerous files of lyrics in his office which he believes are terrible. Here was a writer who recalled a conversation with Ray Davies of The Kinks (another of the greatest English song-writers of all time) where Ray admitted that of every 100 song he’d ever wrote, only 5 or so would be good enough to take forward and of those 5, on average only 1 would be worthy of being released as a single. That’s why he believes we all need the confidence to put pen to paper and come up with something – anything – that will likely be terrible but might just end up as that one true classic. A simple idea but the more we write, the greater the chance of creating something worthwhile and good enough to put out there.
So, there you go. Ultimately, issues aside, I had a fantastic day and came away on a bit of a high, enthused and desperate to write. I mulled over the root causes of the issues a little too much on the drive home (again, I strongly believe I need to shed significant amounts of body-fat to stand a chance of getting over this, and despite having written about this at length back in September ( link here ), that isn’t quite going to plan right now – I’ll write more about this next week) but I returned home with a spring in my step and an even greater determination not to let these damned issues beat me. Hell, I even felt like I had the confidence to start writing about anything and everything, just to see what works, and believe me, that is a huge step forward for me.
Thanks for reading and if you’re anything remotely like me, try to find the moderate amount of confidence needed to try something a little different today / this week / this month / this year. Even the greats amongst us have self-doubt and produce content they believe is awful (it’s just that we never see it) so what is there to lose?