How to Select Big, Juicy Object Writing Keywords

Apple Planet

In the previous article I quickly explained the process of object writing. I first learned of object writing through the book Writing Better Lyrics by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and I’ve had great luck with ever since. So have my songwriting students–it’s always fun to watch them pleasantly surprise themselves during their very writing exercise.

How does such a simple process consistently lead to such surprisingly great writing?

As we covered yesterday, object writing begins with a single keyword. Any person, place, object, or animal that you choose will be loaded with personal associations and memories, and that’s one of the exercise’s strong features.

In addition to your own memories surrounding the object, though, you might also tap into a set of universal associations and concepts. A universal association is a perspective or an impression that we all share about an object. These impressions, if developed even slightly, can create the beginnings of a theme.

Just to make the distinction clear, here are some examples comparing personal and universal associations.

Personal Association: your Grandpa Earl used to wear these.
Universal Associations: vision, knowledge, clarity.

Personal Association: You whacked your thumb once.
Universal Associations: construction, repair.

Personal Association: Yours accidentally stepped on the cat.
Universal Associations: Transportation, speed, strength, power.

You can see how object writing around “Hammer” above could steer you in either the direction of the anguish you experienced (pulping your damn thumb) or might end up guiding you to explore imagery related to building, construction, repair, and so on. It could also lead you to contrast these two contradictory directions and harmonize them within a single piece.

A universal association is great help in deciding what a piece of writing is about.

The cool thing is that you can deliberately select an object writing keyword that’s more likely to prompt such themes and reveal to you the shape of a complete song.

Sources of object writing keywords

Inventions and objects that intrigue you. If you collect compasses, marbles, or if you have a soft spot for gramophones, use your interest to kick-start a session of object writing.

Your favorite authors and songwriters. If you have a favorite writer, think about any pet obsessions or favorite images that turn up often in their work. Take Jorge Luis Borges, for example. He’s constantly mentioning mirrors, labyrinths, and tigers. Any one of those would make a great object writing keyword.

Your surroundings. Write about something that’s right in front of you! This is especially effective when you’re out in the field somewhere and want to capture the spirit of a particular place.

Dream Dictionaries. I haven’t had much luck actually trying to interpret my dreams with these things, but they’re uniquely useful for object writing, developing allegories, and so on. The best ones for our purposes are basically just long lists of metaphors. I find that usually turns up thoughtful entries.

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Posted on November 25, 2010

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