When asked how to write songs, a lot of aspiring songwriters will say something like, "I just write what I feel."
While it's true that many of the best songs are written from the heart, there's usually a lot more involved in the writing of those songs.
Pick any hit song that sounds as if the singer is just pouring out his or her feelings.
The song may sound as if it was written in a sudden burst of inspiration, and it's possible that it was.
Some songs seem to just write themselves very quickly.
It's much more likely that the songwriter spent hours upon hours, and days upon days making it sound that way.
When a pro songwriter has an idea for a new song she may very well start out "writing what I feel", but sooner or later she will start to have other ideas for the song.
A clever rhyme or interesting turn of phrase may pop up out of the blue, and this will be written down so as not to be forgotten.
Sometimes, a theme or story will emerge that is completely different from the original idea. When given time to grow and develop, a new song takes on a life of it's own.
If the song is written in haste, either because those first ideas are considered pure or because of the desire to finish the song, the magic will never happen.
A seasoned songwriter knows "how to write songs", knows the importance of giving those initial ideas room to grow.
This is where the rewrite comes in.
Every great song becomes great because of the rewrite. The song is still written from the heart, but it's also given the attention it deserves.
That may mean rewriting certain lines five or ten times!
Not too long ago I hated the rewrite. I had read about the importance of it in the "How to Write Songs" sections of several songwriting books I owned.
When reading about it I agreed with the authors, but always approached the task with reluctance.
Then something significant happened.
I received a response from a music publisher to whom I had submitted one of my songs.
He said he really liked my song, but felt the second verse could be stronger. Would I be willing to rewrite it?
I was shocked! On one hand I was thrilled that a publisher called me to say he really liked my song; on the other hand I felt that if he really liked the song, he wouldn't be asking me to change it.
I remember thinking, "How dare you!" or "What do you know?" Luckily for me, I kept those thoughts to myself and said, "Of course!"
I felt a little hurt and frustrated, but after a spending a couple of days thinking it over, I found myself agreeing with his advice.
I then channelled that otherwise frustrated energy into rewriting the second verse. I'm really glad I did.
The song turned out so much better than before!
Now I find it strange that some musicians will spend hours a day honing their playing skills, but when it comes to writing, they are willing to settle for the first draft.
As if those very first scribblings are sacred!
It doesn't matter if you are a guitar virtuoso, if you don't have a great song you ain't got nothin'!
It all starts with the song.
Give your song the attention it deserves. Live it, breathe it, work it. Above all, give it time.
I no longer hate the rewrite. On the contrary, I look forward to it. And I don't wait to be asked. (But if I am asked, I gladly comply!)
Rewriting is now business as usual. Once I've finished the first draft, I pat myself on the back. Then I get down to the business of writing the real song.
It doesn't often turn into a completely different song, but it always becomes more concise. Punchier. I'm learning how to write songs that say more in less words.
That's something every up-and-coming songwriter can aspire to.