Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it. Take, for example, my recent experience while listening to Bruce Springsteen.
American singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen is one of the biggest-selling artists of all time. He even has a planet named after him. And when Springsteen was presented with a Kennedy Center award in 2009, Obama said: “I’m the President…but he’s the boss”.
But what you might not realize is that hidden in one of his songs are some inspiring lessons for writers. I say these lessons are hidden because somehow I totally missed them for many years. Until one day, a couple of months ago.
I was driving my car when I heard Springsteen singing on the radio. The song was Dancing in the Dark, from the 1984 album Born in the U.S.A. I must have heard the song dozens of times over the years, but for the first time, his lyrics caught my attention.
There was a loud squeal of brakes. Not from my car, or the vehicle in front of me. Thank goodness for that too, because I might not have stopped in time. My brain had slammed the brakes on all other thoughts when I heard Springsteen sing, “I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book”. As I thought about the rest of the song, I found other lines that resonated with my life as a writer.
I drove home quickly and checked out the music video on YouTube. Next, I started digging into the meaning of the lyrics and the story behind the song.
Many of Springsteen’s songs are about everyday people living life and striving towards the great American dream. But what about Dancing in the Dark? What inspired it?
According to a piece in Billboard, when the album Born in the U.S.A. was nearly finished, Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau told him that he wanted a blockbuster hit single for it. Possibly recalling his previous album, Nebraska, which had darker lyrics and had received mixed reviews, Landau wanted Springsteen to really knock one out of the park this time.
When challenged to go away and write a blockbuster hit, the Boss delivered. He came back with Dancing in the Dark. It earned him his first Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.
Check out the lyrics in the following video, and see if you also find some inspiration for your own writing journey. I’ve written some of my thoughts about the lyrics beneath the video.
This is the Official Music Video provided to YouTube by Vevo. You might have recognized the “fan” Springsteen pulls from the audience to dance with him. It is actress Courteney Cox who went on to play Monica in the NBC sitcom Friends. For those who are not so familiar with the fashion and style of the 80s, you might enjoy reading this analysis of the music video.
7 Inspirational Lessons for Writers from Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark
I have quoted some of the song lyrics below for the purpose of commentary. This is my own take on some inspirational lessons for writers. Others may find a different meaning in this song and Springsteen himself may well have intended a totally different message altogether.
1. Sometimes the words won’t come.
I get up in the evening
And I ain’t got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
This lyric and those around it call to mind someone working the night shift, tired, and probably sick of the monotony of it all.
Have you ever felt like that? Are you struggling to build a career as a writer while holding down a job – or two – because you need to pay the bills? Find a way to push through and get it done.
2. Sometimes you need help.
“Hey there baby, I could use just a little help”
Especially in these days of independent publishing, there are so many responsibilities that need to be managed. But help is also available. Turn to writers’ websites, writers’ groups, and books on writing.
3. It all starts with the spark of an idea.
“You can’t start a fire without a spark”
Every fire, every roaring inferno, starts with the tiniest of sparks. What is your spark, your idea? Don’t think that your idea or project is too insignificant. You may need to develop it or refine it further, but you have to start somewhere.
4. Let your ambitions and dreams motivate you.
“I check my look in the mirror / I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face”
You need to have some goals and aspirations. Let them be powerful motivators that keep you moving forward.
5. Hunger will drive you.
“They say you gotta stay hungry / Hey baby I’m just about starving tonight”
Have you ever felt like you’re a starving artist? Do you dream of hitting the big time, but seem to be stuck where you are right now? Let the hunger drive you.
6. Don’t spend your whole life in front of a screen.
“I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book”
Don’t get frustrated and quit. Go for a walk. Get some exercise. Read a book or watch a movie. Then come back to your writing.
7. Hang out your shingle.
“This guns for hire”
Embrace your career. You’re a writer. You’re in business and should be proud of it.
These “lessons” are simply my own thoughts after listening, for once, to these lyrics. Did you see something different? I know someone is going to say it was a song about a guy in love with a gal. Really? 🙂
Springsteen’s New Autobiography Born to Run Releases on 27 September.
Springsteen’s new autobiography, Born to Run, comes out later this month. He wrote it over 7 years and, in an unusual move for a celebrity autobiography, he wrote it ‘on spec’, without first approaching any publishers.
In a video released this week on his Facebook page, Springsteen says, “Writing prose has its own set of rules… You’ve got to create the music without the music. You’ve got to find the music in the way that the story moves and the rhythms shift and your voice shifts. You’ve got to create momentum purely on the page.”
In another video, below, Springsteen describes his writing process and explains how the process of writing his autobiography was similar to the songwriting process.
Dancing in the Dark song and lyrics by Bruce Springsteen © Copyright 1984 under Columbia Records label.