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August, 2012

"Are We There Yet?"

by Webmaster

I've been writing a book since 2010. I thought I was done with it last December, after a year. I spent a year organizing, scanning, transcribing and footnoting a box of letters that my Dad wrote during World War II, when he was in the infantry in Italy, France, Germany and Austria.

I thought of them as a very personal view of the war. But it was still about World War II.

Several months later, a mentor suggested that the focus of the book should be the love story between my mother and my father, and that I should include my mother's stories of her childhood and her family. So, I'm back to scanning and transcribing and organizing. And the book that I thought was complete is now only 25% complete.

It still took me a few months to get moving on that suggestion. It wasn't motivation, exactly. It was a matter of priorities.

I thought I had all the time in the world to get to mother's stories and the other six boxes of family photos and documents that have been sitting on the floor behind my desk for almost 2 years. Other things were far more time-critical.

Then, I drove home after a day in Denver, into the mouth of an inferno. A wild fire was out of control, less than 20 miles from my house, and we were on pre-evacutation notice. I came in and stared at the boxes of photos and papers. I realized I couldn't save them all, plus my dogs, plus my instruments, necessary clothes, important papers, and mementos that have deep meaning for me.

So, I photographed everything, backed up my computer, and watched the fire on TV and from my front windows for a few days.

When the fire was finally under control, I finally got a good night's sleep and started the work on the family papers and pictures.

I believe that things happen for a reason, and they happen when they're supposed to. I let my book project sit and mature, while I did other things. As a result of the delay, and the advice, I think the book will be better. At least I hope it will.

I believe that letting new songs sit and mature helps, too. I think writing songs is a lot like breaking in a new pair of shoes. They're perfect when they're shiny and new, but you have to wear them for a while to find out where they rub sore spots.

During the time I wasn't working on the book, I wrote and rewrote some cowboy poems. Cowboy poetry needs to have perfect rhythm and perfect rhyme. As a songwriter, I have become lax about both rhyme and rhythm. Soft rhymes are acceptible, and to some popular songwriters, preferable. So many hard rhymes have been used so often that they sound trite. Soft rhymes can give a surprise to the rhyme and a new, fresh image to make the songs more interesting. In a song, we can add or drop a syllable or two and make up for it with the music. We can't do that when there is no music.

So I took 3 original cowboy poems and worked on them until I had perfect rhythm and rhyme, and they said exactly what I wanted them to say.

And then I got too busy to go into the studio and record them.

When I finally got to record them, I read them through again and realized they weren't perfect. They were closer but not there yet. So I worked on them again. That was about ten days ago. This morning, in the shower, I thought of a few more word changes that will make them better.

I released a CD in early 2011. I was very proud of it, of the songs, of the performances. I sent copies out to all of the musicians and co-writers. I got an email back from one marvelous musician who had listened to the tracks he put on one of my song, and asked if he could do it over—he didn't like one note in one chord. Much as I like this musician, and want him to be happy with the results, I wasn't going to re-make the CD for that change.

I got an opportunity to submit a few of my songs to a publisher in Nashville. In return I got suggestions to change two of the songs to make them more marketable.

I wrestled both emotionally and technically with the suggestions, and redid the songs. Nothing has happened with them, so far, but I have to admit that they are much better songs now.

So, I decided I wasn't going to do that with my new CD. I was going to get all the feedback I could get before I finish the CD, even if it means recording the songs or poems multiple times.

I was at a songwriters workshop the day the wildfire started. One woman at that workshop asked, "How many times do I have to rewrite this song? When is it finished?"

I understand the frustration. Feedback on songs can be so inconsistent. One of my more successful songs (which has been a finalist for an award and has been recorded by other musicians) got feedback from one judge in a songwriting contest, to the effect that the music was great but the lyrics needed work. So I rewrote it and submitted it again the next year. The feedback was that the lyrics were great but the music was boring. The same Nashville songwriter / publisher who gave me the useful feedback which caused me to rewrite and re-record two songs from my CD, critiqued the new versions, which he had previously agreed were good enough to promote. His critique several months later contradicted some of his previous suggestions and comments.

At some point, you have to be the ultimate judge of your song. Trust yourself, your instincts and your audience. You'll know when your song says both lyrically and musically exactly what you want it to say. Your audience will tell you when it works for them.

And, accept the fact that at some time in the future, like many great songwriters have discovered, you may be inspired to write the perfect line, the perfect rhyme, the perfect new verse to that song.

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