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✍️ How to Get Satisfaction from Your Writing
or, How a Throwaway Song Became a Classic Hit – and What It Means for Writers
There’s no way that you haven’t heard (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. Love or hate the song, its gold record hangs firmly on the wall of Classic Rock.
What I always found so interesting was (a) how the song came about and (b) how the band never thought it was going anywhere. Apparently*, the guitar riff came to Keith Richards while he was sleeping. He woke up, hit the “Record” button on his cassette player, and played it a few times before drifting back to sleep. He didn’t even remember – he heard it for the first time when he pressed “Play” the next morning. (The reference I read made no mention of drugs or alcohol the night before – though perhaps that was assumed…)
Mick Jagger added his own twists and turns to it, using it as a way to vent frustration after a concert gone bad in Miami. They were forced to abandon the gig after four songs, then hide out at their hotel. Story goes that Jagger went down poolside and banged out some lyrics.
Even the recording session was haphazard. Keith Richards put some saxophone sound effects through his guitar pedal to get a raunchy fuzz, only meant to be a placeholder until the real horns came in. The horns never showed up, but they shipped the disc anyway. That divey intro became one of the song’s hooks, so universal that you could name that tune in one note.
What you may not know is that both Jagger and Richards voted against releasing it at all – that’s how little they thought of the song, despite how much they worked on it. (You could say that they tried and they tried and they tried and they tried, but they couldn’t get no satisfaction. However, that would be a cheap laugh.) But the rest of the band out-voted them, and the song went on to legendary status.
So what’s this got to do with writing? There are lots of threads here. Let’s start pulling some.
*As with all things Stones and rock music in general, there is never only one story...
Useful Information to Fire Your Imagination
Thread 1: Have No Qualms About Pulling the Ripcord
We’ve talked about writing seriously vs. having fun writing in the post, Alice’s Novel Problem. This is a trap that we all fall into to some degree. When I knew that something I wrote was going to be published no matter what (because there was space to fill or a time constraint or some other mundane reason), that’s when my fingers would clam up.
But this song is the opposite of it. Even though they were The Rolling Stones, they knew that there were no guarantees. In rock history, you don’t often hear about songs that didn’t make it to an album (unless you do a deep dive on some particular band). The Stones knew that ditching a song that was going nowhere was always a possible. In the end, they almost did...
Thread 2: Put in the Work
Here’s the thing though: knowing they could ditch the song didn’t stop them from playing around with it and doing whatever they could to make it go somewhere. They worked hard on it (or maybe “played hard” is a better description – they didn’t take themselves seriously). Not building-a-wall-across-China hard. But you know, two days in the studio on top of all the song writing that went before. Mixing in new sounds to give it some oomph. Debating, I imagine, over this beat and that note. Most songwriters of this calibre put in the work, have fun with it, and...
Thread 3: Get a Finished Version Before You Decide
...and don’t judge their work until it’s done. This is a generalization – I’ve heard of both song writing and book writing projects that get abandoned along the way for various reasons. But, generally speaking, the professionals don’t make the final call until they have something finished in front of them. Just EFFing Write It, all the way to the end, without pre-judging it.
Thread 4: Get Another Opinion Before You Hide It in a Desk Drawer
Of course, after they had a finished song, the two main guys who wrote Satisfaction didn’t like it. They wanted to chuck it all, take from the experience, and move on. Luckily, the other band members saw differently. Thankfully, the band saved them from deep-sixing a classic – and quite possibly their most famous song. That’s why it’s important to get another opinion on it after it’s done. You might be holding onto gold – or in this case a gold record – and not even know it.
Key Takeaways - Write anything. Even if you don’t think it will go anywhere. Don’t worry about anything during the creation process – simply create. You can become judgey-judgey after you’ve done the work. Get another opinion too – you may be too close to know you’re holding gold!
Over to You: How Do You Get Satisfaction?
Do you have any tips for getting satisfaction in your writing? Any little things you do to make the creative process easier? Let us know in the comments below!
In the meantime, I leave you with – of course – Satisfaction by the Stones in the video below.
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
email me if you get lost.