Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Stand Up, Comedy

What's the secret of comedy timing?

Sorry, let's try that again:
What's the secret of comedy?


Or is it?  And ok - that was a joke that may not have worked so well on paper, but last Sunday myself and my good ole friend Argent (still going despite her lack of activity online) decided to find out.

It all started a few months ago when I had a text from the aforementioned Blog absconder saying there was a Stand Up Comedy workshop at a local University - AKA Mega City because it is now almost bigger than the City to which it gives educational service (there are, in fact, two major universities in our neck of the wood which are both growing so exponentially that thermonuclear war is seemingly inevitable and Historians of the future, should there be a future, will no doubt curse us for not stopping that "Physics Lab" being erected)

Now I should say at this juncture that it is unusual to find any evidence of Culture in these parts - it's like that scene in An American Werewolf In Paris where the tourist walks into the local pub and all eyes turn towards him and Brian Glover says "we don' loike strangurs 'round 'ere".  Culture dare not step over the boundary lines of our noble city incase it gets mugged.

The exception being, of course, at the University Arts Centre where they show French ROad Movies About the Grimness of Existence (or F.R.O.M.A.G.E. for short), have some of the major comedians of the land visit, the occasional small-scale concert and even, it is rumored, teach the occasional student something.

We started the day by playing Rock - Paper - Stone as an ice breaker - each time you won you evolved from Egg to Chicken to Pterydactyl to Super Hero and could only play someone else at the same level (I was pleased when one person asked me if i wanted to play the Lizard - Spock version, but turned them down - and also that I was able to maintain Super Hero level quite a long time by the simple step of always playing paper second if there was a draw first time)

Then we were asked to write down one thing we loved and three things we loved about it and tell this to a small sub-section of the group in the space of one minute.

Having done so we then had to write down one thing we loathed and three things we hated about it and (and here comes the twist) use those points to say why we loved it.  This was a very interesting excercise as it forces your brain to work in a more creative and unusual way: looking at things from a different perspective.  It was also to show how much more people listen when you are clearly arguing something ludicrous for comic intent

Other excercises followed which included (in no particular order): going up to the mike and introducing ourselves and choosing one of three subjects to speak on (I chose "my favourite teacher" but i can't remember the other two options) - immediately after which we had to go back up to the mike and recite (note - NOT sing) a song lyric as if it were the most important thing ever.  This was designed to make us feel more comfortable with the mike and to use expression.

Another really interesting excercise was to take a random piece of news from the internet (just chosen randomly based on the number of hits) and to write down as a group how many funny things we could think of about each paragraph - we had a list of 13 jokes (some funnier than others) from the first paragraph alone.

The chap running the course was himself a stand-up comedian with over 1,000 gigs under his belt who frequently lectures on public speaking and he was very clear on the ups and downs of life as a comedian - saying that for every 100 jokes you wrote maybe only 10 would be worth trying out and 4 would actually make it to the set-list, and that with the loss of comedy clubs its now harder for comedians to get going without giving material away for free (via podcasts/youtube etc) and that jokes have an increasingly short lifespan due to the internet.

Finally we were sent into a corner in groups of 3-4 and told to write a brief routine (I chose playing the saxophone and Argent talked about the lord of the rings) and come and perform it, if we wanted, for the rest of the group.  I was quite pleased with my response as it gained a few laughs (but then i am aware that i tend to use humour as a defense mechanism anyway)

He does another course - a 10 week course that tells you how to develop material and your act.  It's not cheap and it's not nearby, but I am thinking of going: especially as there's a chance to take part in a live comedy showcase at the end.

Not that I particularly want to be a comic.  I'm just creative in lots of random and unfocussed ways: plus it would be good for my public speaking group.

But I feel I should leave you with a joke - not a very good one, but one that I penned myself

There's a new Detective Show being made about a Cop who loves blue French cheese

It's called The Roquefort Files

(badum tish, here all week folks, try the fish)

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Spot The Misdemeanor

OK folks it's time to play a new, fun and exciting game that I've created called Spot The Misdemeanor.

I'm going to describe something that I actually saw happening and you have to guess, from the details given, what nefarious deeds were underway.  To preserve some sense of interest the answer will be given in the comments page - but please read the blog before turning over.

So - here is the scene: Myself and Herself were driving home one evening early in the year when we saw Suspect No#1 (and I checked - that actually is his name.  I'm not saying he's a criminal, but I would say that he can often be seen Helping The Police With Their Enquiries...if you catch my meaning), a local lad aged between 12-16, cycling along the road towards us.  On the handlebars of his bike was perched Suspect No#2 - holding a spade in his hands.

So: from the above can you spot the misdemeanor?

This was actually the third event in less than a week that finally persuaded us that it was time to move to a nicer and safer location: possibly the Somme, circa 1914

The first was when I was on my way back from work and waiting at the train station for Herself to pick me up when I got a call to say that her friend was coming instead because the valve from the tyre of our car had been stolen.  It had taken Herself a few metres to realise something was wrong, by which time the flat tyre was torn to shreds.  Apparently there had been a speight of this in the area.

The second was a few days later when I was practicing my saxophone upstairs: I had just finished and switched off the light when there was an almighty WHAM from the front of the house (and no, it was not Andrew Ridgley busking for change...a joke you will only get if you remember your 80s pop history).  I went outside to find that a wheelie bin had been thrown against our door.

To be fair: we had been talking about moving out for 12 months or more - ever since the New Neighbours had their 3-day bank holiday party during which the the whole of England seemed to traipse in and out of next door and there was much imbibing of fermented vegetable products (for starters)

Both of these events went into the Top Ten on our list of Occurrences:

10: The Annual Burning Of The Evidence
I have never understood the attraction of setting a bonfire without having fireworks and BBQs but every now and then there would be a loud crashing from next door as they kicked down doors at 4am whilst screaming at each other - followed a few nights later by them pulling a sofa out to the back garden so that they could grunt "man make fire" at each other in the hope that they might still evolve

9: Wallpaper Warehouse
Neighbours sitting on the other side of the house, at 4am loudly singing the tune of an advert for a  local wallpaper sales place to the tune of Waltzing Matilda

8: Swearing At Chickens
Every so often one neighbour or other would buy a pet whilst drunk at the pub.  On one occasion they came up with the brilliant idea of keeping chickens: this was brilliant until they realised there might actually be some work involved and resulted in one of them going into the back garden and yelling "shut the *&^% up!" at them.  Because, of course, chickens are well known for their understanding of English and its more colourful metaphors

7: Over The Fence
We had to get a security fence installed to stop one set of neighbours urinating against our wall and climbing over at 2am to get to their back door.  On the last occasion this happened one of them yelled "Oi McGuinness, you'd better climb over before he gets that fence installed", it took all my self control to refrain from yelling, "yeah, or before he works out who you are!"

6: Three Day Party
As mentioned above

5: A Pizza The Action
Immediate neighbours with the party wall enjoyed nothing better than screaming at each other all night, kicking down doors to get at one another and then laughing like it had all been so much water under the bridge.  One night the woman became obsessed that he "don't *&^%ing love me, cos you %$£&ing ate my £$%^ing pizza"

4: The Great Bedroom Fire
Does what it says on the tin really: one set of neighbours two doors down got evicted after someone at a party at their house decided it would be fun to set fire to a bedroom.  The smoke damage spread to the house next door and narrowly missed us as well

3: Bin Being Thrown At The Door
As above

2: The Halloween Incident
I've told this story here before, so I don't want to go into it again other than to say that a nice sweet young boy was taken trick or treating the first year we were there by someone who was barely sober enough to stand.  The fact that there was no one in that kid's life who was sane enough to stop this from happening still haunts me

1: Under Age, Over The Limit
But the one that stays with me the most is the 6 year old tottering alone in the middle of the road, holding a can of lager it had clearly been given to keep it quiet.

This August, sitting in the back garden of my new house, it took me nearly half a day to realise that this was a) the first time in 13 years I had felt able to sit outside in my garden without worrying about neighbours shouting abuse and b) the first hot Bank Holiday where I had got any sleep prior to 2am in more years than I could remember.

I now live in a nice, respectful area where it's permanently quiet, with neighbours who smile and say hello instead of sneer and ask what the duck you are looking at, where no boy racers scream around the streets in stolen cars at school letting out time and where the loudest sound is probably me practicing my saxophone, at respectable hours, without fear of Refuge Revenge.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Peter Principle

It is a sad fact of life that I was born without a sense of ambition.

None whatsoever.

Well - there are things I'd like to do, but it really is in a vaguely unfocussed way as and when they come to mind, with my usual inimitable style of bumbling genially through life whilst trying to cause as little damage as possible - with no real end point in mind other than to find something that occupies my mind for a short while and is enjoyable to do - preferably in the company of people who are Fun To Work With (IE equally geeky with warped senses of humour).

Which is why I have little time for people who describe themselves as Life Coaches and talk of time optimisation, career actualisation and end game perspectives (or whatever) - I can't see a situation in which I would ever find a use for such a person: other than perhaps to buy me a cup of coffee at one of their far too frequent team bonding effication moments.

I mean sure - I play saxophone (for instance) and I'd like to be much better at it but 8 hours a day practicing - really? Where's the fun in that?  A hobby is something I do for pleasure and that sound a bit like hard work

And yes, sure I'd like to be doing something a bit more creative and fun at work, but I have no real idea what precisely that is nor how to achieve it - and as for promotion well...

I've actually been a manager a few times.  I had a team of 15 people that I looked after and whom I was supposed to check on a daily basis that they still knew their jobs and hadn't forgotten it all over the weekend (instead of, you know, trusting them to just get on with it)- and I was placed in the very odd position of finding and training my own replacement when my job was offshored, leaving me at risk of redundancy and my question to all those career-oriented people out there is - who needs it?

I'm quite happy to keep my head down, stay out of trouble and do the job in front of me the best way I know how.  A little recognition wouldn't go amiss, but hey...

I'm just not cut out to be a Manager - but to be honest life has left me with the distinctive impression that neither are any of them.

Douglas Adams famously said in Life, The Universe And Everything that anyone who was capable of getting themselves into a position of power and actively wanted to be there was, by very dint of that fact, the absolute last person you should allow to be there and there's a similar thing called The Peter Principle

Based on a theory by Laurence J Peter the idea goes that promotion is often based not so much on the ability to do the next job in line as upon proven track record in a current role - thus every Manager eventually rises to his or her own level of incompentence - where they can no longer cause any active harm, cannot be promoted any further and inevitably become paranoid of the young upstarts who are climbing the ladder behind them.

I've had every type of manager: from the David Brent/Ricky Gervais type who tries too hard to be your mate to the shouty/moody type who makes your life a living hell just because they can - but what I really want from a boss is this:
* Someone who understands the role I do and appreciates the difficulties of the job
* Someone who is open and honest about what they are doing and why and is not just looking after number one
* Someone who recognizes that we are part of a team and can be trusted to have your back
* Someone who I can have a joke with, but can take control when required
* Someone who would rather I asked time after time than didn't know something and would have the patience to reply

Someone a bit like me I guess.

Shame there's no power on earth that would make me want to do it.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

A Mighty Tribute (Act)

In an ideal world, were I of a mind to do so, I would create a tribute act for Talking Heads.

We would be called Stop Making Sense, or possibly Found A Job if that were already taken (Third option: Houses In Motion - all now (c) 2015 as band names until I hear otherwise!) and we would tour - doing all five hits and doing occasional fan-shows where we just play all the way through the set of the seminal concert film Stop Making Sense (made by Jonathan "Silence Of The Lambs" Demme)

But back in the real world I suspect that there is probably not a great deal of desire for a Talking Heads tribute act and that once we'd played Road To Nowhere, Once In A Lifetime and maybe And She Was our audience would largely stare at us in apathy wondering when they were going to hear a song they knew.

Possibly then there might be, as a second option, space in the world for a Joy Division tribute act.  Despite the early death of singer Ian Curtis and being almost entirely ignored by everyone other than a cult following for many years they seem to be experiencing a posthumous level of attention that they could never have expected to achieve at the time.

I say the above because my saxophone teacher is currently in a band.  A proper actually gigging, writing their own material, band that might actually become a big thing in their own right - only one of their members is very publicly against tribute acts and has decried the ones he had to endure on his recent holiday...and I can't for the life of me understand why.

OK yes - going out and creating your own thing is a noble achievement and worthy of attention: but it's very hard to make a living from and besides there are various problems with that:

Take for instance the average cruise ship, casino or, if you will, ceremony of nuptials.  You don't want Sonic Death Monkey turning up and scaring your guests away - no indeed.  There's a reason why Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners is a cliche of the DJ at the British Wedding - it's because it always gets people up and dancing (though if I never hear it again...)

There's a reason why Dancing Queen by ABBA always gets played around 1am in the sort of disco that still has UV lighting and a semi-permanent pool of beer by the toilets - because Girls Of A Certain Age are genetically built to scream "wooooh-hooo" when they hear the opening chords and throw themselves on the dancefloor - destroying anything foolish enough to stand in their way

New music is great - but at an average pooling of a random group of people, only brought together by family ties, inebriation or both you need something that they know.  Any new band will tell you how hard it is to get a gig because of this - but if they're good enough then a following will start to happen

Also - as you may have noticed - there is a certain point in your career as a New Inspiring Voice where you inevitably become your own tribute act.  Too much success and ten years down the line no one wants to hear the new songs played, they want to hear the classics that made them like the band in the first place.

Finally, of course, new bands need somewhere to play - and those places need to attract punters in order to keep their doors open.  Bands with a name, or a known repertoire, are an easy sell - and who knows they may have a support slot.

And let's face it - going to see The Rolling Stones is very expensive.  These days you need a second mortgage to buy concert tickets - so why not see The Counterfeit Stones for £10 instead of £80

And some of these bands have very inventive names (although the majority are just "The INSERT COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Pink Floyd" or else named after songs) - my favourite of which include The Joshua Trio (U2) and the all-female punk band Sex Pissed Dolls

But at the end of the day the reason I feel these bands should be championed rather than ridiculed is that ultimately anyone getting up and learning an instrument and putting music into the world - even by someone else - is doing a good thing.

On a final note though I just want to contradict myself entirely: increasingly many years ago now I went on a creative writing course at a local college - on which was a man who was determined to write and have a Mills & Boon (hack romance) novel published.  This chap had analysed their books down to the Nth degree and knew what should be happening on Page x, paragraph y.

At the time I was rather saddened by this idea and wondered why anyone would want to subvert their creative juices to achieve such a thing...but really, isn't he doing the same as a tribute act only without a guitar?

Answers on a postcard please.  Meanwhile: here's Sonic Death Monkey:

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Not Nece-Cecil-ry A Good Thing

I have to say I have my doubts about this current trend of naming and shaming through social media

Not, I hasten to clarify, that I'm in favour of dentists who go shooting furry animals for fun - honestly, at this stage in our evolution I can't help but feel that when the robots finally rise up and overpower us we will, if we have decimated the planet for fun and profit, somehow deserve it.

But what are we trying to achieve here?  I mean, Cecil won't be any less dead will he?

And of course Cecil is merely the tip of a much bigger iceberg.  About a year ago now, on her honeymoon, a friend of mine went to a zoo in Thailand where she and her husband were invited to stroke and cuddle with some "tame" lions - sounds innocent enough so far, but after the event I looked into this and found out that lions and other animals are specifically bred and treated this way in some zoos so that they will approach the nice hunters when they get too old to be cute.

Even despite the game reserves, zoos and preservation attempts we are losing the battle because there is always a quick buck to be made by a local trying to put food on their family's plate, not worrying that their trade will be gone once the species has failed.

And again: I want to make it clear that I think shooting and killing something for fun is shameful and wrong and should be consigned to the history books - but I question the value of naming and shaming.

Firstly - if these people were happy to be photographed with their dead prey is it really likely that a few hundred people sharing their photo is going to change their minds or make it any less socially acceptable?  Right now in the UK a very strong Conservative party is motioning to relax some of the rules and regulations around Fox Hunting - something that surely no one was calling for.  We all understand the need to control vermin and pests to livestock - the problem we have is dressing in red outfits, yelling Tally Ho and making a day of it.

And yet it persists - does the tide of public opinion against people going fox hunting stop even a single hunt?  Somehow I doubt it.

Secondly - have we thought about the ramifications.  OK so you and your immediate friends might be level headed individuals ready to yell "shame", but sooner or later that post is going to reach someone willing to take the law into their own hands.  Sure: what this dentist did was not very nice, but the guy may well lose his business, has had death and arson threats and is probably at threat of having his friends and family reproached by association.

A few years ago there was a famous case in the UK of a farm that was breeding animals for fur - there was an almighty clash as animal rights protesters blockaded the house, throwing firebombs at the buildings.  Whilst I respect the feelings of these people that unnecessary cruelty to animals is a bad thing, I cannot condone actions to stop it that bring us to the level of animals ourselves.

Is that really what we want?  What problem would that solve exactly?  Surely responding in this way makes us as bad as the killer with the gun in his hand.

By all means protest, sign petitions, contact your local politician and continue to work for a world where this sort of thing no longer happens - but don't endanger someone's life in the process

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tray A Little Tenderness

I always feel a little disappointed that establishments like the Hilton allow riffraff like me in.

There should, in my opinion, be a long coated man at the door who reaches out with immaculate white gloves and gently stops me with a polite but firm “I think Sir will feel more comfortable in another, lesser, establishment”

Places like the Ritz, the Hilton and that are owned by anyone who has a child named after a major city are probably not the sort of places to which the likes of me would usually gain egress and the fact that they will allow me to stay there in return for the exchange of small pieces of paper (or increasingly the swiping of a plastic card) in some way cheapens them.

As you may have guessed by now a few nights ago I stayed at a branch of the Hilton on the one of my increasingly rare work visits (these occur every year or so and are usually to do with training or meetings) – paid for out of the company coffers. We were down to visit a site that already had a Bright and Shiny New Practice that we wished to emulate and also to have a team bonding day for what is increasingly a disparate group of ragamuffins who are spread to the four corners of the universe.  Quite frankly though: if the two people required to give us the briefing on the aforementioned Process had come to us it would have been a hell of a lot more economic than shunting a team of 16 people half-way up and down the country.

I had chosen to stay overnight the night before in a desperate attempt to be even vaguely awake for the meeting and in the knowledge that the trains from my local station to this site were about as frequent and believable as sightings of the yeti.

Staying in a hotel on company expenses is not what it used to be – back in the Good Old Days you used to get a generous food allowance and pretty much be able to book wherever you wanted to, arriving there in a gold plated Rolls-Royce if one should desire to do so. However: these days everything has to be In Budget and therefore affordable – so you get enough money to feed a hamster and bus fare home if you’re lucky. However: I had managed to swing it so that I could get the Hilton as my hotel is on this occasion as it was just about in budget.

My plan was to get something to eat at lunchtime and then just grab a snack at the train station that I could eat in my hotel room – however this proved to be more difficult than I had thought, because I couldn’t find my way around the train station enough to find anywhere that would sell suitable snacks. The platform, i decided, could only have been designed by Professor Rubik, In addition to which the train ride had been hot, sweaty and tiring – with corridors crammed with people, so I was pretty tired and just decided to get a taxi straight to the hotel and just order in.

There was no sign of the white gloved doorman when I arrived, so it was a relatively simple operation for me to go through the door, approach the lady behind the desk and plant my ukelele on the desk (having foolishly agreed to provide a section of “entertainment” to close off the day) – the major miracle being that in the two trains and three taxis between work and the hotel I had not succeeded in losing my microscopic instrument.

She looked at me in my jacket, T-shirt and jeans, with my windswept hair and must have assumed I was some kind of vagabond, because when I booked inand asked how much wireless access would cost me she gave me a free pass (which would normally have cost £8) as well as taking my payment details for the breakfast the next morning (£12)

I didn’t really want anything big to eat – having eaten out at lunch, and by now my feet were very tired – so I decided to look at the room service menu and based upon the selections, and even despite the fact I thought it was a ridiculous amount pay, I ordered an omelette that cost me £10

Now I don’t know about you, but I think £10 is quite a bit pay for a couple of whisked up eggs mixed into some milk – quite frankly I could have done that and I doubt it took their most highly trained sous chef to create my meal– anyway, it was okay and was sufficient for me. It took me awhile to find the free tea and coffee, which they had surreptitiously hidden away in a drawer next to the not – so – free minibar (cheapest item £3 for a chocolate bar) and to work out the remote control (£9 for a film)

The room was pretty much like any other hotel room I have ever stayed in and there was not much to do. I don’t know what it is like in other countries, but most Hilton’s seem to be out in the middle of nowhere, so once you are there they are pretty much playing to a captive audience unless you have transport – so my only option was to flick through the channels watching naff TV until it was time to go to bed and check facebook for humorous pictures of cats.

In the morning I woke up, showered and pulled back the curtains to the exciting view of another part of the hotel and saw that my bill had been pushed through the door during the night. When I looked at it I noticed that it was £5 more than I was expecting it to be and it was only then that I realised that they had charged me £5 for the tray at my meal had come on.

Not, I hasten to add, for the purchase of my tray (which quite frankly I could have found in a fairly 
decent pound shop), but for the “hire” of the tray. Had I not been so tired the night before I would have noticed this and ordered in a pizza (with free box)

I was actively incensed and paced around the room like a delegate from the Tourette Convention for a good couple of minutes – I could understand this in a budget hotel, where everything is optional or extra: but in the one kind of expects that things like trays required for delivering food on, is part of the price.

I took a deep breath. I calmed down. I went downstairs to breakfast: wearing my Manic Street Preachers T-shirt and jeans.

It was a small act of defiance that brought me little or no satisfaction as I piled my overly priced breakfast onto my tray and called for a second cup of coffee, but it was worth it for the look of horror on the faces of the two business types in suits who shared the left down with me.

After breakfast I made a hurried escape – before they could set the man in the white gloves on to me.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Where Do Songs Come From?

A question almost every writer will be asked at some point in their lives is: where do you get your ideas from?

Agatha Christie allegedly used to answer this all-too-often asked question by replying, "From Harrods, of course: where else?"

Terry Pratchett postulated that ideas are like lightning arcing through the air in search of the right head and that it was equally possible for an idea about quantum mathematics to hit the head of a camel as it was to hit the head of Einstein - which goes some way to explaining why camels look so permanently surprised.

I began thinking about this after a series of incidents where I have woken up at 3am with an idea bouncing around in my head and had to find some way of recording it before it was lost forever.  Where did this idea come from? Why did it arrive at 3am?  Why is it not possible for it to arrive at a more convenient time: for instance when I am sat with a piece of paper trying to come up with an idea.

I suspect that the amount of times that someone, even a great songwriter, sat down and said "right: let's create a classic song" and then did so are quite small.  Sure: there are plenty of people who can bash out hit single after hit single on demand and make a living out of doing so - but the truly great songs...well, I suspect they are a bit harder.

Elton John, I believe, allows himself a maximum of one hour to find a tune for the lyrics that Bernie Taupin has supplied - if he can't get to grips with it in that time then he abandons the song and moves on - personally I don't know how one would go about writing a set of lyrics and then handing it over to someone else to come up with a tune, but I would imagine that Bernie has to write quite a few lyrics before he finds one he thinks suitable to present to His Eltonness

The truth is that there is no easy formula or solution to this - otherwise we'd all be doing it: but here are a couple of examples of how you can start:

#1: Some form of physical exercise.
Preferably in the middle of nowhere and with no recording implements so that you have to keep repeating the idea to yourself until you get to a notepad/mobile phone/handily placed secretary - there's something about the motion and rhythm of exercise that is beneficial - particularly to song writing which is all about rhythm and movement

#2: Talking to yourself.
Some people say that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness: I say it's rude to ignore the little pixies.  However: talking to yourself is a way of externalizing your thoughts and making them solid - if you really allow yourself to relax you will often find yourself thinking in ways that surprise you and saying things that you have no idea where they came from.  If you get embarrassed talking to yourself try talking to the cat instead.

#3: Being in a creative space
Some of the best ideas come purely from being around other creative people and doing creative things - more than a few of my songs have come from just mucking around on the guitar and seeing what happens.  Most famously Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd) has said that the notes for Shine On You Crazy Diamond just seemed to fall off the guitar - most likely whilst he was playing around and seeing what would happen

#4: Listening and giving it time
Some of the best songs I have ever written have come from things that people have said to me that have stuck in my mind.  Most recently a friend was telling me about her violin and it's history and it just stuck with me: I knew somewhere in the back of my head that there was a story to be told, but nothing came through immediately.  Then, one night, I woke up at 3am with a fully formed chorus in my head.

#5: Try not to interfere too much
I read an interview with Bono some years ago where he said something along the lines that songs were ideas floating in the air and that the more you reached for them and tried to catch them the more you changed the shape of what they were - scraping away the imagery this essentially means that the more you let the idea occur naturally the more pure it will be and that sometimes by messing around with an idea too much you can break it.  Having said that: the above mentioned song about the violin took me two days to finish writing, but is probably the exception to the rule as I usually try to get the idea down fairly quickly

#5: Practice
Ultimately if you have the time and patience to do so you should spend some time trying to be creative every day.  I saw an interview on TED some time back about creativity where the speaker said "Inspiration may not turn up: but you should" - and it's true, because if you train yourself to be receptive to the ideas that come along then they are more likely to materialize in the first place.