Now it takes me three to four times longer to finish a song. One reason is obvious: I'm much busier these days. But that's not all.
A couple months ago, I put my finger on part of it. My earliest songs -- the autobiographical ones, anyway -- dealt with the past. Even though those past experiences still hit a nerve, I could analyze and make sense of them more easily than if they were consuming me right at that moment. Now my more personal songs tend to focus on situations of the moment, and they're more raw.
I had an aha moment about a related reason late last night, courtesy of novelist Nick Hornby.
Hornby is an excellent writer who also happens to be a big music enthusiast. His latest book, Juliet Naked, is (very broadly) about the strange relationships that fans have with artists, and vice versa.
The aha moment came with this passage, about a retired musician who's had writer's block for over two decades:
The truth about autobiographical songs, he realized, was that you had to make the present become the past, somehow: you had to take a feeling or a friend or a woman and turn whatever it was into something that was over, so that you could be definitive about it. You had to put it in a glass case and look at it and think about it until it gave up its meaning ...Yeah.
God, yes. That's it.
If an experience is already over, it will stand still while you examine it. Pose for you. If you're still waiting to discover how it will all turn out, you have to guess.
And that's fine. It's just harder.
I suspect this knowledge won't make me a better or faster songwriter. But maybe I can forgive myself if it takes a while to pin down whatever it is I'm trying to say.