Songwriting and autobiographicality: “Have I over-revealed?”

When writing songs (or books, or street art), do you ever find yourself struggling with how much (or little) to reveal about your personal experiences, thoughts, feelings, etc.?

I do.

To what extent should I spill my guts?

Some of my songs feel like they’re more based on fiction than anything else; others feel like thinly-veiled (or not-so-veiled-at-all) versions of my truth, my life, my story. And sometimes that feels scary. What if someone figures out I’m referring to them? What if someone ends up hating me? What if, what if, what if…

In the end, I call upon the Gods Of Creative License and I move forward. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let another human being censor THIS,” I tell myself. And I plow right into discomfort.

The funny thing is that no other human has ever tried to censor my songwriting. The biggest potential Censor is myself. Maybe it’s those THOUGHTS of other peoples’ reactions that makes me hesitate, pen in midair. (“Oh my gawd! Are you REALLY going to say that??”)

In most areas of my life, I feel like I’m pretty good about following The Rules; I pay my taxes, I drive safely, I try to cooperate with other human beings so that we can more or less coexist without adding misery to one another’s existence.

But when it’s just me and my guitar and the “record” button, I really want to say that all bets are off.

How about you? Do you encounter that internal struggle between staying safe and blowing the fucking doors off the whole place? If so, how do you deal with it?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Songwriting and autobiographicality: “Have I over-revealed?”

  1. mandy m

    As a writer, this is a constant struggle for me. My first manuscript (still in progress) pulls so heavily from my life that I feel guilty about calling it fiction. I actually warned a family member who was reading it that a lot of it was made up (so that he wouldn’t worry that I’d left my husband, had an abortion, had cancer, etc.)
    Even with my other manuscript that is COMPLETELY FICTION, a reader was worried that the protagonist was actually me and that I’d been sexually assaulted as a child.
    So… the problem comes from sometimes writing from real life and sometimes not. Keeps those closest to you guessing (and worrying). And one day when we’re big hits (in the music and book industries), we’ll have reporters ask us painful questions about how much of our music/writing is fictional.
    One of my favorite writers, Pam Houston, throws out an arbitrary number like 83 percent. I love that. I may use 46 percent as my stock answer.
    A final thought: I actually like that Taylor Swift skewers ex-lovers in her songs (although I don’t care for her music so much).
    I say blow the fucking doors off the whole place. It may be harder for listeners/readers but so much more satisfying because it cuts to the bone.

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