writing

The Songwriting Life

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 7.56.55 AMSo I sat down and wrote a few lines and tried for a melody, but nothing memorable came. Returned to familiar key progressions, fiddled, stared out the front window at the road, then stood and went back to the oven to check the roasting zucchini.

That was one day.

I sat on a piano bench in a room with community and coffee, and we couldn’t stop smiling, at the inspiration and flow and our own jokes. One sang and tried out a lyric while I played and nodded and a third dropped in spontaneous fiddle parts.

That was another day.

My laptop is open and I’m listening to someone else’s songs, in awe of the instincts and choices. Google title for words, put the tune on repeat and let it fill up the room, while I inwardly cheer that someone thought of it.

I don’t even try for something of my own that day.

Last month, all alone, a song came right up out of my skin. Maybe it had been coursing through the veins for quite some time. Maybe it was waiting for me to take it seriously, take it to dinner, ask the right questions. Love at first sight, we were made for each other.

That was a good day.

But every day…

I make, and I am made.

I sing, and I am sung to.

Together, we listen to the stories, we open doors, and we hold hands.

We laugh for no reason late at night, stand close with tears in our eyes, remind one another to look at the illuminated road rather than the lightning*.

This is the secret truth: the music doesn’t stop, not for one unseen second of our days.

You are a writer, and you are also a beloved character on the pages of another writer’s masterpiece.  A favorite part of the melody in another writer's song.

EVERY day.

So am I, even on the staring-out-windows days.

 

 

 

*Taken from Eugene Peterson's A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION, where on page 30 he paraphrases Elie Wiesel on the stories of the Hasidim.

The Writing Room

Must.Write.Now.

It’s a bit obvious when the songwriter in this house has stayed away too long from writing, because she starts getting just a LITTLE bit grumpy.  A TINY bit irritable.  Easily IRKED.  Not by political leaders or financial crises or even by semi-big deals like being behind (again) on emails or (chronically) filing paperwork.

It’s much less rational than that.  Where there is no solitude, there is much loud exhaling at the very presence of human beings.  People and their people-y things, like shoes…hunger…chatter.

It’s not pretty...

So...for the well-being of my family: to writing I return.

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Where have all the good ideas gone?

The writing road is often a thrill-ride attempt to grab all those great ideas that hover in cartoon bubbles around your head before they pop.

"Except when it's not."  (Dr. Seuss)

Sometimes I honestly wonder if maybe I’ve written my last good song, because: Where did all the ideas go?!

They arrive through books, blogs, sermons and (yes) conversations (those people-y things).  Soak...write...soak...write...soak...

I’ve been soaking for a while now without the wave rising up.  These past couple of weeks, I sense the swell coming but something isn’t quite there.  And I’m beginning to think it’s not always about the idea…

.......

What’s the Problem?

Sometimes it’s about trying to write in a way that’s akin to taking a quiet bath in the middle of Times Square.  And the billboards and traffic?  My own brain.

Maybe we fall into Consciousness and can't get up?   Maybe the noise of a thousand tiny people in our heads telling us how to be and sound and watch out for this and don’t do that gets in the way of us carving out something fresh and true?

I forget to light the candle of Intuition that has always led the way …

Any writer can break down a great song for you and tell you why it works…AFTER it’s written.  More often than not, we're not actually thinking about those things during the process.  Occasionally, a listener will point something out that looks like great crafting, and it’s a delight to hear, because I had never consciously worked it out.

We practice, study, listen and pack all the structural tips in the back closet of the brain.  But the really natural, poignant writing happens in The Writing Room.

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The Writing Room

The Writing Room is not a physical place but a mental Safe Room, where almost everything the writer needs lives.  Stacks and drawers of metaphors, images, memories, stories, poetry, vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme line the walls (if you’re messy like me…maybe yours is more orderly).

Self-consciousness is most definitely NOT in the room.  Self-consciousness takes up lots of space, distracts from and suffocates art.

On a great day, the process is vertical, spiritual, intuitive. In that space we are free to focus every fiber on serving the song at hand. In that space, every syllable matters, every melodic nuance is measured and shaped, but it happens not in a lab but on a birthing table.

Like any good birthing room, the baby is delivered after hard labor in a safe and relatively serene environment.  And she looks a little like her parent and a LOT like a brand new thing that never existed before.