A Struggle To Finish

YG0U5003I’ve always had trouble finishing songs.  It’s AGONY.  Seriously.  I know people who talk about songwriters being prolific and I think it’s a load.  Writers who write 100 songs in a year are just writing the same song over and over and over again with 100 cadences.  

Writing songs is laborious.  It’s a sacrifice of time and brain power and emotion.  You can’t just sit down and write one…or at least you can’t sit down and write one that you’re proud of or that has any lasting value.  Granted…if Justin Timberlake told me tomorrow that “Bringing Sexy Back” was written in ten minutes…I would still stop and dance in the middle of Target to those brilliant notes.  I’m not saying it’s not possible.  I’m saying writing a good song so quickly is not probable.  

Here’s my general process:

First I come up with a great hook.  It could come to me while driving in traffic or mopping the floor or living by myself in a small garage apartment in Pasadena with a terrible job and elderly landlords for neighbors. (not that that happened ) About a year ago I came up with this hook while drinking an entire pot of tea: “All that’s left of you is a silhouette – a shell of life, and imprint there, an outline of what burned and breathed.”

That was a year ago.

A year.

Second I start the long and strenuous process of finding meaning and tune and direction for the song. This could take an hour or 1,000 hours.  About six months post hook and after finishing several other songs, recording a full length album, and getting married (can you tell I don’t want to appear lazy?) I began to write the verses to this song.  

This was a tough time.  I would write and rewrite the verses.  I would get something good and then throw it out.  I would ask Andrew what he thought and I wouldn’t listen.  I would talk and talk about it and things would creep along and eventually I would find what I wanted to say in the perfect poetic way I had imagined.

But even this is not the end.

Third you have to shine it up meaning you have to make it performable.  Sometimes this means creating a bridge.  Sometimes it means changing the melody a bit.  Sometimes it means…you never play  it again because the shine just won’t come.  For this particular song I needed a bridge.  I needed to build dynamically from the verse to the chorus.  I needed to rework some of the melody but it was worth it and I’m nearly finished.

Here’s what I have:

When you were young you were the perfect example

Putting every other twinkle to shame

Now where’s that gleemy-eyed youth

Lost in a flurry – each breath so uncouth

And busy successions of the lame

You can’t let your mind go quiet

Cause you’re afraid of what it might say to you

                        ‘til all that’s left of you is a silhouette

                        A shell of life and outline

                        Of what used to burn and breathe

It’s easy to get by when you’re playing the game

Dodging your reflection at every chance

And though you burn your life away

Nose to the grind – you’re sicker each day

The core is rotten and dead at a glance

            How painful is the separation

            Of the soul from its truer destination

Now you find your dreams extend to the days

And they speak despite your efforts to quell

The hours you planned to throw away

Give birth to the voice you thought had decayed

             Is it possible to get up when you’re six feet down?!

             Is it possible to once again hear your heart pound…your heart pound?


In other news: The dreams have now turned to me having to teach a class I am totally unprepared for.  Great.  


4 responses

  1. Can I just say that commend your longevity and stick withitness? (can you tell I am NOT a writer? sheesh did that sentence even make sense?)

    I am fairly certain that I do not have the patience and diligence not to mention creativity to go through the process of writing a song… let alone more than one.

    I commend you, for sticking with it and doing it so well. You truly are a gifted artist and a hard worker!

  2. Valerie,
    Thanks for the eloquent insight to your writing process.
    I’m a slow writer, too. In fact, I’m slow at everything; so you come by it naturally.
    I used to have a quote on my wall at school that said something like,
    “Writing is easy, you stare at your typewriter until drops of blood form on your forehead.” I think somebody named Gene Fowler said this. (I only think I know this because I stared at it while teaching for an entire year). Some people write to discover what they want to say. Some people write to figure out the truth. That’s not easy, nor is the creation of profound and moving art. Does it matter who writes quickly and who doesn’t? After all, God is out side of time and probably isn’t counting the seconds, minutes, hours, years. The process of writing is a closeness with The Creator not to be missed nor dismissed nor rushed nor mislabeled.
    Your song writing is important and profound. Your blog writing is also beautiful and though it is difficult to do, I know you will keep writing. We’ll all be grateful and inspired because you give yourself to your gift.

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