Try Jeff Tweedy's Writing Exercise! (We Did!)
Jeff Tweedy knows a thing or two about songwriting.
The Wilco frontman writes one song each day, or so he says in his 2018 book, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). Let’s Go makes an interest statement on failure; specifically, letting go of fear of failure in order to move forward with your work. Write one song a day, even if it’s not your best work.
I dig it.
One song a day can’t be an easy feat. Even Jeff Tweedy has tricks for moving the songs from his head out into the ether. For one, he’ll record music, and then lay down a spoken “mumble track,” listening to it until his non-words start to sound like words. Two, he’s willing to write a song that isn’t great. That gets back to letting go of the fear of failure. (Write your heart out and something gold is bound to shine through.) Then, there’s this…
He never quite says if this exercise has a name (at least not that I can recall). But, in the book Let’s Go, Tweedy shares a fun way to put a song together. We decided to bring it to the blog and share it with you, and test it out in the name of poetry.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call it 10 Nouns and 10 Verbs. This is our variation of it.
First, choose a profession and make a list of 10 verbs associated with the profession. Then, choose a place and identify 10 nouns associated with that place. (I'm pretty sure in Tweedy's version, you choose 10 nouns in your field of vision. Feel free to try either version!) Make some random matches between the two and voila. Poetry.
He does a great job of explaining how the process naturally gels as you go through it. In Let’s Go, he explains that he used the profession of an assassin and the noun of "avenue." I laughed as he described the loose association between assassinate and avenue: “Can you assassin down an avenue?” Tweedy says that some matches will naturally start to mesh together. Case in point: I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.
Here at Loud Coffee Press, we decided to attempt the 10 Nouns and 10 Verbs method. With the assassin concept being so bad-ass, we had a hard time straying from it. (Postal worker and pharmacist didn’t quite make our cut, but dammit if they couldn’t work for you!) Here’s what we came up with.
The resulting poem!
When you’ve taken the last sip
and the bottle of whiskey kicks,
life’s feeling a bit like an
old horse's hide
Dirt flies in an attack,
you've got to shoot back
Fight like a poker hand
with a full house
Flip the cards with flair
twist with a rifle's spin
Jump over those saloon doors -
let 'em block an old shootout
Bullets fly through the air
of the brothel in disguise
‘cause an artist's gotta protect
their 10-gallon hat.
Okay. Well, we put this blog out there every week, unafraid of failure. While we may not have succeeded in creating exceptional poetry, if put to the right chords, maybe we created the beginnings of a Wilco hit.
What do you think, Mr. Tweedy?
If you loved our attempt even remotely, tap the heart! Share your favorite writing exercises below. If you're feeling lucky, put a snippet of a great or greatly awful line of your work below. We won't comment on the difference.