I have to talk just the tiniest bit about one of the new Toad songs, “Golden Age.” I promise this will be more about writing than it is about Toad. You’ll see.
I mentioned yesterday that I thought “Golden Age” was one of the best songs on the new album. Vocally, it’s astonishingly beautiful. Well worth the price of the donation all by itself. (Incidentally, since I have no income, someone else made that donation twice and then gave the album to me… Toad fans are the most generous people ever. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, again. You know who you are.) Lyrically, well… I want to write this perfectly, someday. I do not aspire to be a songwriter, but great writing is great writing, regardless of genre. Below is an excerpt that proves my point:
All we are is vanity
Comics playing tragedy
I traded in my sanity
For a dream that soon abandoned me
God loves a madman
But I wore his patience through
It’s too much to ask of anyone
I could never be as strong as you
(C) 2013 Toad the Wet Sprocket
I didn’t even post the whole song. I didn’t have to. These lyrics make me cry, in the best possible way. It’s funny, many of the songs on the album are co-written by Glen and other members of Toad or Glen and other songwriters. I checked the credits to verify it, but I knew they were Glen’s words alone before I got the confirmation. I could hear his voice in every line.
All good writers have a voice, a distinct way of expressing themselves that’s theirs alone. Years and years ago, I dated someone I met online. It ended, and not well. There were unresolved feelings on both ends. At any rate, I met him on one online location originally, and after it was over I found out he was hanging out in a new place online. Yes, I am both this old and a total geek… this was before the Internet existed in the way it does now. You would actually dial up specific locations and meet people there. Crazy, right? Anyway, I went to this new place and created a new name for myself… tried to hide my identity. My goal was never to mess with his head. I just wasn’t over him yet and wanted a way to connect. I knew he wouldn’t talk to me, so I tried to be someone else. I typed in all lower case, even, trying to mask my identity. It was a total fail. I made it maybe 10 minutes before he knew it was me. My “voice” was loud and clear, even in lower case. It wasn’t what I said, but how I said it.
So I’ve established that I have a voice; that’s a good thing. But having a voice and actually using it are very different. I want to write something I feel as strongly about as I do about Glen’s lyrics. More strongly about, preferably, because it would have come from me. My words. It’s been a very long time. I like blogging, like the things that I say here and the way I choose to say them. I hear my own voice again, and that’s been really great. But. I haven’t written poetry or even added to an existing story in so long I can’t ever remember when it last happened. I used to write a lot of poetry, probably because it was easier to finish a poem than it was a story. Poems were my favorite medium, once upon a time, and they really did used to enter my head more or less fully formed. It was satisfying, and it wasn’t something I had to work at. It just happened, like lightning bolts. I don’t know how universal the poems were, but I will say that when I reread them now they take me back to exactly who I was and what I was feeling when I wrote them. In that sense, they are completely effective.
But the not having to work at it thing turned out to be something of a problem. When I was in a creative writing class and was compelled to write things on command, it didn’t always go well. I think I saw writing as a gift I’d received – or would receive periodically, even – rather than a craft, something I had to work at. It wasn’t that I was unwilling to work, necessarily. It was more that I genuinely couldn’t figure out how to. I’m still struggling with that. The notion of specific goals and deadlines doesn’t mesh well with my perception of the creative process. I realize this view is highly inaccurate and immature to boot. I get it. People who write for a living have expectations placed on them by the outside world. Publishers, deadlines, fans clamboring for more. One of my favorite fantasy authors in the world went years and years and still more years between books, and the books in question were part of a trilogy. It was excruciating. My husband, who also loves the author, flat-out refused to read the second book until the third one came out. He couldn’t take the waiting any longer.
So how do I go about forcing myself to work at something rather than sitting around waiting for some imagined brilliance to strike? I don’t know. People do it, I know that much. I’ve been waiting a really long time, and it’s evident that the less writing I do, the less I am struck or motivated. So this is still a piece of the puzzle, but it’s only a piece. More and more I am getting the feeling that I need to pick up the children’s story I started so long ago. I need to work at it, or even practice working on it if I need a starting place. I need to keep trying, because not trying is not working out. It certainly isn’t heightening that sense of self-belief I need. The muse is in me, somewhere. It won’t drop from the sky, and I won’t find it in someone else’s song lyrics, regardless of how beautiful they might be. I need to believe there are beautiful words in me as well, and work out how to get them out. “Work” is probably the key word.
Good grief. I feel naked. Time to wrap this up.