On songwriting...

Writing again the past few days (nights, really)...remembering that sometimes a three-minute song requires days or weeks of loving, painstaking labor...shaping, like wet hands sliding over clay, forming, pressing, turning...

Not always.  There are those glorious, rapturous moments when inspiration swoops swiftly down, blowing through a writer like a sudden wind.  

But not often.  For me, anyway.  I have over the years discovered I differ from many writers in this way:  I am not fast.

People ask, "HOW do you write a song?  I could never..."  

And I always think: "Of course you can write a song.  A child can write a song.  I could teach you in an afternoon.  Maybe not a masterpiece, but yes…a song."


Step One. Listen.

Step Two.  Consider.

Step Three.  Create.

Yes, and of course, metaphor, rhyme scheme, melody, chord structure...but all of that can come later.  Write something down!


Yet, here I am, twenty plus years of songwriting…still the struggle.  Like Jacob wrestling.  Or a crazy person holed up in a closet humming with a pen and notebook, scribbling and crossing out, scribbling and crossing out.

So this is what it looks like really.  In case you wondered.  Mystery exposed!



First...             A small seed of idea, enthusiasm, followed by…

Second...         A season of solitary brooding, considering, pondering.  Destroying dinners while compulsively connecting potential patterns, figuring perspective, angle and approach.  Then..

Third...             Dabbling at the keys…some few phrases in hand…solid starts that will survive and…others, doomed to be disposed of. 

Fourth...           More dabbling…the making of a melody...probably for the first verse and chorus only.   Said melody will change many times over many hours and days of tinkering…

Five...               As will the chords laid beneath the melody like tumbled marble.  So many options for every syllable…must test each possibility until Special happens.  Then, that syllable gets to sit quietly while the next has his turn on the pottery wheel.  Every line must find Special somehow. 

Six…               Days of pre-occupation, pausing by piano at every opportunity to re-play…burning melody into the memory of every innocent bystander in the house who have all long since grown weary of the precious infant song…

And recording…Garageband…over and over again, every time, so upon hearing playback, writer can attempt greater objectivity (this is a crucial tool, I’ve found)…

Tweaking, embellishing, taking away, shifting melody, meter…

Seven…             Sing new songbaby a capella while stirring spaghetti, driving, waiting for rain…and discover that some lines are already forgettable and others are quite marvelous.  Play with it, re-shape until it holds.

Eight…             Complete lyric and test against melody.  Swap small words that no one else will ever notice but which matter very much to writer.

Nine…             Be brave.  Play new baby for husband.  Take husband at his word and trust that he’s probably right, either way. 

Give it a name.   

Ten…             Send baby out to meet the other kids…Hope he is greeted warmly by people who understand what he’s about.