songwriting

The best songs write themselves if you listen for them carefully and with patience and you obey what comes and you diligently take it all down.

I am writing this way right now and it's working.

I have three memorable songs now.

What I did was I bought a new nine dollar notebook with rings and I bought two big packs of paper that fit the notebook.

I also bought a package of dividers, each with a pocket, to separate sections.

I am labeling each section by what song titles are in the section.

I am just writing whatever comes to me and not pushing myself to finish a song too quickly.

If you force the song to be finished, out of your own anxiety or impatience, you can miss out on what additional words or parts could be coming to you down the pike by inspiration.

Patience is key.

But maybe some reader will get stuck back on the part about "write down whatever comes to you".

I can just hear someone saying, "whatever comes to you? What if nothing comes to you at all? How do you get the song ideas to come to you?"

Part of getting the ideas to come to you is to prepare for them, like setting a trap.

When I was little I wanted to tame the chipmunks at Lake Vermilion every summer.

I was up there with my mother from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so I had time.

I would get started right away when we arrived in early Spring.

In late May up there, the leaves on the birches were still unfurling, so it would be very rainy and very chilly.

We would keep a fire in the stone fireplace day and night.

My mother would make delicious homemade meals and also wonderful baked treats like homemade cinnamon rolls for us.

(My brother used to come too, but he often went back for summer school or summer jobs and lived in the city (Chicago) at our house with our Dad. Then they would come up periodically throughout the summer.)

Sticking to the chipmunks though, I would first set out corn flakes or rice crispies or cheerios in tiny little piles near the covered kitchen porch.

I'd put a tiny pile of cheerios stacked under a toadstool, yes, under a woodland mushroom, growing near my bedroom window, so they wouldn't get soggy from the rain.

I'd watch and sure enough the chipmunks would come.

One chipmunk could completely stuff his face with a little pile of cheerios.

I would watch and he'd keep re-situating the cheerios in the pouches of his cheeks until he had stuffed them all in.

Then he'd run off madly with his face three times it's normal size, and would presumably either hide the cheerios somewhere for later, or share them right then with his family, or her family, I should say.

To make this very long process short for you, I would eventually, by late summer, have the little guys literally eating out of my hand. I could sit quietly with a hand extended, full of cheerios, on the covered kitchen porch, and they would come, one at a time, sometimes all watching, sort of waiting their turns, and one would come forward, haltingly, and gather up the courage to climb right onto my fingertips. Then he'd sit and stuff his pouches of his cheeks with every last cheerio in my hand, until it looked like his cheeks would burst, and then he'd fly off my hand and run to the woods. I'd refill from my mother's box of cheerios and the next guy would come.

This is how you write songs.

The songs are butterflies, or chipmunks, or whatever your deal is.

You don't want to pin them down, kill them, trap them, ruin them.

You want to have them alight on your outstretched hand and be themselves, be free.

You are the steward of an excellent song.

Let it come through you to the world.

The first thing is to be ready with your plan, your location, your box of cheerios, your ideal conditions.

I bought the notebook for writing a new album of songs.

I set the intention.

I set up long periods of time with no outside input, no listening to other peoples' music.

I set up time to quietly wait in reverence with an outstretched hand, praying that one would come.

I sit down with a guitar and the new notebook and I strum the most delicious chords I can think of.

I walk and walk outside, along the great Mississippi and I listen to the wind in the trees, the sighing of the branches. The trees know many beautiful songs, I'm sure of this.

This is my way.

It's a way of writing songs, and, moreover, it's a way of life.

Love to you today.

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