Monday, September 6, 2010

A Lesson in Lyric Writing

As many of you know, I've been writing songs since I was a little kid, and have considered myself a serious songwriter since I was 17. I've been thinking about the similarities and differences between novel writing and song/lyric writing, and thought I'd share my thoughts.

The biggest similarity is simply a love of words - playing with them and working on them until they fall perfectly into place. The biggest difference? Time.

When I write a song, it usually comes quickly. I pick up the guitar, and often within a half hour, I've got an entire song written including music, melody, and lyrics. I spend a few hours tweaking the lyrics until I've got them just how I want them, but the basic structure is there within minutes.

When writing a book, this is obviously not the case. Even when the first draft comes quickly (I wrote the first draft of my current novel in six weeks, which is relatively fast), there is so much time spent editing that the "final product" may take up to a year or more to complete.

What's fun about writing lyrics is that you can write about one particular subject or experience, or many at a time, or even use imagery and symbolism to write about "grand" topics, like the frailty of life, gratitude, romantic love, etc.

The following are examples of some of my lyrics from a few songs I wrote a long time ago, and the last one is a set of lyrics I wrote this weekend. In it, I rip myself off by using bits and pieces of my previous songs. See if you can spot the lines I "re-use" in my latest song.

This first song is like four separate books. Each verse is a story in and of itself. Also, in an unusual twist, there is no chorus, just an "ahh" melody line in between each verse.

The plane takes off and steals my mind
And leads it towards the sun
That certain sound still sends me back in time when I was young
When innocence surrounded me and laughter was the key
And solitude, profound indeed, would lead me toward the sea...


The throne which you may rest upon can not be called divine
Unless its born straight from the heart and nursed on song and wine
So little is the crown you wear when all it does is shine
To make it glow you have to know the reason for the rhyme...


My thoughts take off and race through time, landing on the hills
Where memories have gathered high and pictures dance with words
Why did I let him hold me there regressing all the time?
Can I go back and take along the wisdom that is mine?


The legend that I know is truth combines all life and mind
That ever-present Law of All describes all space and time
To slip inside the sacred walls that guard the ancient rhyme
One must control the present plane and want to learn to fly...


This next song I wrote shortly after moving from Colorado to California to pursue my musical dreams. My parents sent me a diamond necklace for my 21st birthday, and I was feeling homesick. This song is a love song to my family.

I'm wondering, do you still need me in your lives?
And if you ever see me on your minds?
And I'm hoping it won't, won't be long, 'til the time
That I'll see you once again
That I may be with you again

And, I love you
You know I care for
And, I miss you
You know I really (really, really) care for you...

Sometimes I feel a shiver inside
And I want you to know,
Yes, I want you to know how much that I am trying
Could you ever, ever love me for me?
Only for me, oh, I'm asking of you
Just for, for me (for me), and love from you...

And I'm taking my mind to a simpler time and
I'm trying to find the love that I left far behind me
Running back home where the snow sometimes falls
Finding shelter in the arms of it all
Knowing our ties won't be severed with time
That's a wonder, I'll treasure it like a diamond in my mind
You are my diamonds, I find
So, hold me closer to you, closer all the time
Know I do love you, yes, I love you, well I love you all the time...

This next song is a song of hope for the times in life when things seem to be falling apart. I've related to it a lot over the past few months/years.

Time, time, reflects an illusion and signals the tables to turn
What was once is forever and never will it be the same

As the pieces fall around you
You must choose what is true
For you, and then your puzzle
Will start to take shape and your world will become...

Life is sometimes confusing and other times very clear
We see, we understand but we often don't hear what is real

As the pieces fall around you
You must choose what is true
For you, and then your puzzle
Will start to take shape and your world will become...

Dreams are all that we have and all that we ever could need
We must live for the moment and don't ever let it slip passed...

As the pieces fall around you
You must choose what is true
For you, and then your puzzle
Will start to take shape and your world will become...

As the pieces fall around you
You must choose what is true
For you, and then your puzzle
Will fall into place and your world will become...
We'll become one

I'm starting to see how my life could be / Yesterday's dreaming far inside of me*

*These two lines were sung in unison, one on top of the other

This is the set of lyrics I wrote this weekend. My guitar is at the guitar doctor, so I don't have music yet. See if you can find parts of the previous three songs woven into the story, which is a very personal statement to what I've been through lately.

DIAMONDS II (Random as the Rain)
The birds they circle overhead, a dance they cannot fight
Little children in the sandbox play with shear delight
A plane climbs high and steals my mind, leads it towards the sun
Who am I to claim to know the answers right or wrong?

You colored me a love note on a paper cloth of white
I laughed and loved the dreams you offered, held them to me tight
I wore your diamond on my hand forever and again
Now it's in a heart-shaped box on tears that never end

Each of us is like a diamond, glaring in the light
Yet, blindfolds of our own design keep us in the night
Each of us is like a diamond, tainted, rare, and true
Striving to express our inner souls, our inner truths

Life takes turns we'd not imagined, choices strange are made
A shell game full of love and traitors; painful, aching shame
Our paths, they crisscross on and on, an ancient dance unnamed
One is here and one is out there, random as the rain

Do you still need me in your life? Do you see me on your mind?
I'm hoping that it won't be very long until the time
When pieces that have fallen, tossed as stones upon the ground
Will gather back together and the key to life is found

Each of us is like a diamond, unique and free and strange
Grasping onto something or someone to ease the pain
Each of us is like a diamond on a heart-shaped chain
Searching for that brightest light to lead us home again

So, let me know what you think about the difference between lyric and novel writing. What is it you love most about writing?


Laurie Lazar said...

I love your new song! Its very poetic. Would love to see videos of you singing! And of course Diamonds and Pieces are songs that will remain in my heart forever...and beyond. I'm moved to see you moving from this time of profound transition through your roots in music, poetry, and creativity. I love you deeply.

Debra L. Schubert said...

LB, Thank you so much, my dear. I love you more than I can ever say. ;-)

Julie said...

What a beautiful and sad new song. I got all teary.

"A shell game full of love and traitors; painful, aching shame"

Ouch. Just ouch.

But beautiful and painful and real. And that, my friend, is what I love about you. You don't flinch from what is real and you are a survivor.

Love you bunches.

Debra L. Schubert said...

Julie, Thank you honey, love you more. :-)

Sharla said...

Love your lyrics!! I used to write poetry, so I recognize the difference in that and novel writing...such a different creative place to tap, isn't it? You are truly talented, my friend!

Debra L. Schubert said...

Sharla, Thank you so much for your kind words. It means a lot coming from someone who knows what it's like to write both novels and poetry. ;-))

Robin said...

Have you thought about recording any of these and posting them on youtube so that we can hear them. It is one thing to read a song and another thing to hear it. Your lyrics are so beautiful that I really want to hear them.

Debra L. Schubert said...

Robin, Thank you so much! Yes, when I get my guitar back I plan to practice and put some songs up on YouTube. I'll be sure to let you know when they're available. ;-))

Angie Ledbetter said...

Put me down for a CD, will ya?

Lyric writing and poetry -- both good diversions from the grueling task of ms revisions and such. :D

Debra L. Schubert said...

Angie, Hugs to you, my friend. Yes, poetry is a great escape from editing. So is pretty much anything. ;-))

Sybir St. John said...

I wrote poetry before I started writing book length fiction and it was so much easier for the words to come to me then, maybe I was carried more drama then? I do love the new song. It's a definite tribute for what you've been going through and yes, I do find myself reusing things in my novels as well.

Debra L. Schubert said...

Sybir, That's interesting: re-using things in novels as well. I may have to creatively weave something from a previous story into my next book.

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