Some Songs Don’t Come from Diaries

Here’s the deal, guys. People think you have to have some deep emotional traumatic experience to write a good song. And sure, lots of angsty ballads are born from tear-stained diary pages, but not all songs have to be that complex. In fact, I find that sometimes the best songwriting exercises are writing about things that have no real significance whatsoever.

For example, here’s a prompt to get you started.

Write a chorus of a song incorporating numbers 1 through 10. You don’t have to use all the numbers, but write as many of them into your chorus as possible.

Here’s my attempt:

You’re the only one
I can call at half past ten
and I can hold onto
through all the could’ve and should’ve beens
But you left at a quarter to 5
baby, what were you yelling for?
Didn’t break the walls round my heart didn’t tear me apart
didn’t realize what this was
until I walked out my door your car not there anymore
you gave up on us
you gave up on us

Notice not all the numbers are in numerical form. But using the words “onto” and “for” give the illusion that I am continuing on with the numbers theme.

An example of this in popular culture would be “New Rules” by Dua Lipa. The chorus goes:

“One: Don’t pick up the phone
You know he’s only callin’ ’cause he’s drunk and alone
Two: Don’t let him in
You have to kick him out again
Three: Don’t be his friend
You know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the mornin’
And if you’re under him, you ain’t gettin’ over him”

This attempt at using numbers to tie together a chorus is much more structured than my attempt. It’s in list format, and the numbers are all ‘numerical’ and aren’t slipped in through the usage of other like-sounding words.

Here’s one more try by me to create a different sounding chorus using numbers 1-10 as an inspiration:

I see
All the things
I couldn’t see before
You walked out my door
trust me
when I say
going my own way
i’ve never felt so insecure
don’t wanna try anymore
take me back
come back

This one is different because the numbers themselves don’t appear in the lyrics. Instead they influence the number of words in each line. It goes 1-2-3-4-5 / 1-2-3-4-5 / 4-3-2-1. There was no inspiration behind this chorus whatsoever besides thinking of words that would fit this numerical pattern.

Other ideas to base choruses on?

  • Colors!
  • Seasons!
  • Night/Day/Morning/Evening
  • One particular emotion
  • Months
  • etc.

If you get stuck and hit writers’ block while songwriting, simply pick a category and use it to influence a chorus or two. It may not be the best song you’ve ever written, but it’ll usually be enough to get ideas flowing once again!

Looking Forward: Creatives of Color

Happy Friday, arts, ink!

This week for Looking Forward we are learning about a student organization on campus: Creatives of Color! Tiffany Harris, president of the organization, shared with me a little more about what they’ve been up to, how she views the arts on campus right now, and how students can get involved. 

Creatives of Color is a relatively new group on campus, starting in 2018 with the hopes of creating a space where people of color could come together to perform and meet other creatives on campus, regardless of their experience level. Collaboration is at the center of many of their programs, for instance, they have a yearly showcase where artists of different mediums – dancers, filmmakers, musicians, etc – are paired together and create something to perform. Artists who participate have complete creative control – something Tiffany emphasized as one of her favorite parts of Creatives of Color. 

“It’s usually people that I have never met before across campus but it’s like a cool experience because you’re all, you know, black creatives creating something together and just really having the freedom to do whatever you want. You’re not being told by me as the president or by someone else in our E board what to do, you just have the freedom to kind of create whatever you want to. So I think that is what makes creatives of color so interesting.”

Of course, this semester they haven’t been able to perform for large crowds as they usually do, but that hasn’t stopped them from finding creative ways to spread the arts. Earlier this term, they streamed their “Creative Expo” from the basement of one of their board members. They limited those around to only the artists and essential filming crew, all of whom wore masks and maintained their distance, but they were able to stream the event on Twitch. They’re also currently working on their annual collaboration with EnspiRED, another student organization that focuses on fashion and modeling. 

Tiffany also stressed the importance of the types of conversations Creatives of Color hopes to help grow on campus:

“I think for the future just bridging those gaps between orgs [of different racial makeups] and like, obviously Creatives of Color is going to be people of color, you know, that’s in the name. But I think that I really want to make everyone feel comfortable, even white people in our spaces. I want them to want to come to our events and feel like they can participate because they can. I think a lot of people get afraid you know, ‘this is the black space, I don’t want to come into that space,’ but I really want to open that up to more people, so that, you know, we can have more conversations with other orgs, we can partner with more people instead of just blackboards, and we can have conversations about race and not, you know, not be weird and we can have conversations about systemic racism and difficulties in the arts for black people specifically that a lot of people don’t really focus on. So like for example, black women in our industry being over-sexualized and black men maybe if they deviate from the typical version of, you know, rap and hip hop, then they’re seeing as not authentic. So that sort of thing is just like, what Creatives of Color does is we have a really good dialogue, and I hope that we partner up with more organizations like Maximize and other organizations that aren’t necessarily geared towards people of color so that they can understand our experiences. “

Having these types of open conversations, although they can be daunting or scary for some, is so necessary if we are going to move forward to a better world where we can understand and support each other’s experiences. Creatives of Color is doing amazing work here, and I cannot wait to see what types of creative programming they come up with for the Winter semester. 

If you’re interested in joining Creatives of Color or participating in one of their events, be sure to follow them on Instagram @coc_umich. They often have a Google Form in their bio where you can sign up as a performer for future events or workshops, and they post about upcoming programs as well. If you have further questions or ideas for future events, you can also email Tiffany at They have virtual events every few weeks or so, so definitely keep an eye out for future programming!

That’s all for me this week! I hope you have a fun weekend – stay safe!



Empty Poetry

Broken rhythm 

Hits thoughts in

Fallen poetry


With lowly rhymes 

Catch-all phrases 

Useless adjectives adding 



To make twisted 

Alliterated stages 


Grasping for spindly straw lines 


My fingers immerse themselves 

In words 

To make sentences 


Like bracelet beads

Held together by a thin thread 


Eyes absorb the colors 

The feeling 

Manifested in


The clench of the stomach with music 

And sweat

With meaning

Can’t say it? Sing it. (#1)

Hello, world. Or hello, Michigan. Really just hello to whomever happens to be reading this. My name is Josie, I’m a current senior at UMich studying English and Spanish with a minor in music, and this is a weekly glimpse into the chaos of my mind.

As to why I am writing on arts, ink:

For as long as I can remember I have been most easily able to express myself through written words. I’ve been anavid reader and writer since I was about six years old, and have taken my passion for writing in many directions since then. Poetry, prose, forensics, stage, and screen acting are all avenues I’ve pursued in some way, shape, or form throughout the last fifteen years or so of my life. However, from very early on, one particular way of expressing myself fought its way to the top of my list of passions.


I first picked up a guitar at age 8 after 4 years of piano lessons. Within a few months, I wrote my first song–a simple 3-chord children’s song I called “Sun is Shining.” (My mom still whistles it while she does house work and such sometimes). From that moment on, I was hooked. I was never a diary kid. I didn’t see the point in writing all my feelings down on a page that no one would ever read except me. So instead, my guitar became my notebook, and my lyrics became my diary. I wrote about what moved me, the things which made me feel emotions strong enough to need to sing about, and people I met along the road of life who helped to change me in some significant way.

 (9-year-old me)

When I was feeling lost in middle school, I wrote a song called “The Road to Nowhere.” When I was facing challenges in high school I wrote a song called “Wings” whose chorus read “I will take my wings / and I will learn to fly / so if I ever fall / I’ll fall knowing that I tried.”

(The picture below is from a small concert I gave at a local sub station where I played a few of my original songs for the first time. It was one of the moments I can remember which solidified in my mind that music was the one thing which could make me truly happy.)

I wouldn’t be an angsty young adult if I hadn’t written some sappy young love songs too. My relationships have forever been immortalized in the words of an embarrassingly long Word document of songs on my computer.

But why is music so important to me?

In the words of the introduction to the book I wrote on musical role-modeling in high school, “Music has gotten me through the good times, the bad times, the horrible times, and all the times in-between. It’s been something I can fall back on when life gets hard, and it’s led me to some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I’ll ever know. It’s created opportunities for me of which I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and has always managed to put a smile on my face. It’s a part of me I wouldn’t trade for the world. Music nurtures, it teaches, and it grows inside a person until it’s an irremovable part of you. It allows you to believe more firmly in yourself, and helps explain so many situations of which you otherwise couldn’t explain. It’s a feeling you get deep inside—a joy of sorts that reassures you no matter how bad things may seem—how sad the song—those things will resolve. They’ll end on a happy note.”

My biggest role model growing up was my choir director in high school, Mr. Brusubardis. He was famous in our Wisconsin small town for saying really deep, intelligent things to his students. In fact, somewhere I still have a poster my friends and I made my senior year of our favorite quotes of his. But the one thing I remember him saying constantly was that music is a universal language. You can sing in English, Spanish, Greek, Yiddish, or complete nonsense syllables, and people will be able to understand what you’re trying to tell them through the emotion you put into the performance. In many cases, you don’t have to know which are the ‘right’ words to sing when you perform a song. You don’t have to spend hours painstakingly picking out the perfect words; you can just let go, be in the moment, and share what you feel inside with other people. Even if they cannot literally understand you, they will emotionally.

Because of this fact, I would like to welcome you to my 2020/2021 arts, ink blog: Can’t say it? Sing it. 

I’ll be posting about the songwriting process, sharing some of my own work, perhaps featuring other writers I know, and doing my best to relay meaningful information about music I’ve had the pleasure of learning in the last few years of my life.

I had the opportunity to work and learn within SMTD as a voice major my freshman year before switching to a music minor, have done workshops and masterclasses with relatively well-known musicians, and have spent over 12 years now crafting my own personal songwriting style. I also have participated in choral groups, 20+ musical theatre productions, and Michigan A Cappella for 4 years now. I’d be happy to answer any questions about any of my experiences!

Thanks for taking the time to read my slightly-long-winded introduction, and I look forward to posting in the weeks to come!


Get Creative This Halloween

With Pinterest and tumblr becoming more common and popular, it pushes the everyday person to want to take Halloween to the next level.  This means decorating the entire house instead of just the porch and front room, and only making Halloween themed food for every celebration, as well as only wearing homemade/DIY costumes.  These things are super hard to achieve, and somewhat unrealistic for the average person who isn’t amazingly artistic like everyone on Pinterest seems to be.

A new trend that has begun on Pinterest is to paint a pumpkin instead of carving one.  This trend is a great and easy idea that people of all ages and skill levels can easily achieve.  It allows you to be more creative if you want, but it’s not a necessity.  Both simple and complicated designs look great on a painted pumpkin.  And as a bonus, if you mess up then you can just repaint the entire pumpkin orange and start over instead of being stuck with it, like when carving.

Oddly shaped pumpkin I painted as a strawberry

Another bonus of painting pumpkins is that it allows you to get creative with the pumpkin you pick.  There is no longer only two options of short and fat or tall and skinny pumpkins because those are the only two that look good with a carving, now any size and shape of pumpkin works because you can use its shape to your advantage.  If you get a curved pumpkin you can make it look like a strawberry.  If you get a hourglass shaped pumpkin you can make it look like a skeleton head, or a triangle pumpkin can be a witches hat.  These are all also super cute and creative ideas that take little to no skill or time to achieve.

The only potential downside to painting a pumpkin instead of carving it is that you can’t put a candle in it to make it light up and be able to see it at night.  But that is easy to get around by putting several candles next to it or a lantern or really any light source, to be able to show off your pumpkin in the dark.  This means that there is no downside to painting a pumpkin instead of carving one.  Will follow the new trend this Halloween?

Writing as Self-Care

Lately I’ve been pretty into self-care. Recently, I’ve been doing more yoga, and it’s definitely always made a positive impact on my life, especially when I can stop and just let myself breathe for a little bit, instead of letting myself get overwhelmed by circling my head around the infinite number of things I need to do before the end of the month. And I’ve been telling myself that I need to buy some actual yoga classes from a studio instead of just going around doing the free classes (thank you yoga studios for free classes though, they are the absolute best), although my wallet definitely does not agree.

But because of this increase in going to yoga, I’ve also just been thinking about self-care in general, in that it seems like in college I’ve always been stressed. It’s like I operate constantly on a small level of stress, and it always rises, and sometimes deflates, but never actually goes all the way down. And then the best way to deal with it is to read all the click-bait: “13 gifs of The Office that is College Life” or “15 tweets that completely explain how you’re doing in the semester right now.” We constantly circulate these posts of self-pity because we know that everyone else is doing as poorly as we are, and somehow twist it into entertainment.

But I remember a time before all this, in high school. I think it’s easy to think about high school as “the easy days” but also never wanting to go back (because let’s face it, high school sucks). But to me, high school wasn’t easy. It was honestly probably just as rough as college is now, just in a different, more naive way. I went to a college prep school where I was one of the top students, and even though I failed AP Calculus and only passed AP Chem because our teacher pitied our class, I still maintained just being shy of the top-ten percent my senior year (I was ranked seventh out of sixty-nine, so if you round up, I was). But I’d be lying if I said that was easy. I was stressing about getting into college, doing as many clubs as possible my senior year, as well as trying to take as many AP Classes without killing myself. I was crazy busy, even if now it seems like I barely remember it.

But the difference between me then and me now is that I wrote. I have multiple journals, both handwritten and typed, starting from middle school all the way until senior year. I documented much of my life, often because it was a lot harder to talk to my friends, and I grew up as an only child. I used my journal as a way of keeping my stress levels low – once I poured my heart out to my journal, I always felt a whole lot better.

Not only did I keep a journal, though, I was constantly writing. I have about a million different documents, some with bits and pieces of long forgotten projects, some filled with pages dedicated to one idea. I was always thinking of ideas, always writing them down, always staying inspired. I constantly looked up new artists, new music, looked for new books to read, bought more books to read. In some ways, high school was my most fertile time for creative exploration. I wrote poems, I wrote song lyrics, I wrote short stories, I wrote essays – but I never wrote because I had to. It was always just for the pure enjoyment of writing.

But now, in college, it feels selfish to want to sit down and write just for fun when I could be working on the next three papers I have due, or the discussion posts, or even my pieces for this blog. The weekend I cranked out over 20 pages of a story for the Hopwoods, my roommate told me how proud of me she was – not just because she liked the story (which made me so happy because part of me wondered if a lot of it was sleep deprived nonsense) but also because I sat down and wrote this entire story that still has places to go in a little over 48 hours, ignoring all my school work in order to focus on this mini passion project in the middle of the semester. She saw how happy it made me to work on it and to talk on it, and how inspired it made me.

But writing like that can’t always happen – I still have those papers to write. Sure, maybe if I want to go to graduate school and join a creative writing cohort, that’s what my life would be like. That’s not reality, though, and the truth is I have to graduate and find a job.

In some ways, I think that writing, reading, and staying creatively engaged was part of my self-care in high school. I may not have done yoga to calm my mind, but once I wrote a short story where the characters were probably too close to real life for comfort, I felt like I had gotten the problem off my chest. Maybe it wasn’t resolved, but it calmed my mind. And I miss that, I miss using my anger, my sadness, my happiness as fuel for writing, if only to keep me writing. Because although I feel like I’m constantly writing something in college, I still haven’t gotten to stretch my creative muscles out as much as I would like.

But the good news is I’m graduating, and even with job searching and part-timing and every other crazy thing that life throws at me, I know that I can always fall back on writing. Even if my self-care methods change, that love that I have will never change.