by Rachael Snyder
I am infinitely jealous of prolific and talented songwriters. The relationship I have with my songwriting muse is a fickle one. My muse is high-maintenance, flighty and inconsistent. If there was a Tinder for songwriting muses, I’d swipe left. But, she’s who I got so I tend to her carefully and try to keep her happy.
I started writing songs relatively late in my musical life. And for that matter, I started my musical life relatively late in my life life. (Unless you count the hours I spent in my teenage years listening to angsty punk rock and mosh-pitting at local shows). I first picked up a guitar in any meaningful way when I was in college. I was volunteering in the classroom of an elementary school music teacher as part of one of my college classes. I’d always wanted to learn and I figured that if that teacher could teach second graders how to sit still and play the guitar, there might be hope for me. Luckily, I was right and I fell in love with the guitar. Shortly after that I decided to try my hand at songwriting, which I expected to pick up as naturally as I had the guitar. After several of my precious baby songs fell flat with my audience of my patient and indulgent friends, I swore off writing for good. And I was serious.
Or I WAS serious until one night in my early 30s, I had a dream about a stage full of women dressed in old timey clothes singing this tune over and over. I woke up and couldn’t get the tune or the words out of my head. I knew this was important but I sure as heck didn’t know what to do this. So, I wrote down the words and sang those 2 lines over and over until my husband threatened to file for divorce.
As it so happened, I was getting ready for my annual week of heaven at guitar camp. In the past, I had most decidedly avoided any songwriting classes. That year, however, the stars aligned and Kathy Kallick, one of my favorite bluegrassing ladies, happened to be teaching a songwriting class. I resigned myself to signing up so I could finished my damned dream song. And wouldn’t you know it, but I finished that damned dream song. And then wrote another.
Since then, I’ve taken a few other classes from Kathy and some from other songwriters. The pearl of wisdom I’m constantly reminded of is that songwriting is just like any other skill. You have to practice it. You have to take risks and fail. You have to write trite and obvious lyrics. Sure, some songwriters have a natural talent but every songwriter has a bunch of crappy songs under their belt. Some have us have written predominantly crappy songs. For every song I’m happy with, I have about five that I’m embarrassed to call my own. And five more I’m lukewarm about. And then five fragments of songs that I just can’t break through the writer’s block.
But I keep writing. I have a day job and it’s easy to get swept up in my day-to-day life and forget to carve out time for writing. To mitigate that, I have semi-monthly songwriting Skype date with two other lovely women. I often dread it and sometimes I just come with one line. Sometimes I pull out old writing prompts from Kathy’s class. Sometimes I sing nonsensical lyrics loudly in the shower. Sometimes I dissect songs written by finer writers than myself to learn the anatomy and physiology of a successful song. Sometimes I have to leave my husband to take care of the cats and head out into the wild with my guitar to summon my muse. (She almost always shows up when I ask her nicely). And just when I’m ready to swear off songwriting again, I write a gem. The feeling I get when I perform a song and someone asks me who wrote it so they can go buy a copy and I get to say it’s mine makes all the strife worth it. And of course my muse smiles smugly.