Wordy Wednesday (“My Songwriting Process”)

This past week has been crazy. Since last Wednesday, I moved to college, started classes (I’m doing fifteen credit hours and I have ALL my classes on Tuesdays, ugh), probably finally finalized the dates for the Chapter One Young Writers Conference 2014, registered a custom domain for this blog (which I’ll talk about more in a future blog post–stay tuned, but just know for now that nothing’s changing for you, so there’s no need to worry), and… well…  Hannah and I also finally started vlogging. (I say “finally” because we’ve been talking about starting a vlog for the better part of a year now. So the fact that we actually did it is kind of unbelievable.)

Our first video talks about how failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Check it out?

Snapshot_20130904_10This is me begging. If the constipated look on my face doesn’t convince you, maybe a picture of Sammy begging you much more cutely will:

IMG_2177If you still aren’t planning on watching our video after this picture, you have no soul.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a Writing Process post about how I write my songs. Thanks go to the fabulous Rachel for this topic suggestion!

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Before we begin, here are some examples of my songwriting, in no particular order (AKA I’m just posting these as I remember them):

Fine

Choke

Stupid and Young

Across the Sea

I’m not really a musician–I’ve known how to read music since elementary school and I have experience playing most percussion instruments, along with singing, but it’s difficult for me to hear harmonies or keep a rhythm, so music’s never been a career option. However, I do really enjoy songwriting–mainly for the lyrics–and I probably have a couple hundred songs written out in notebooks and Word documents.

The process for writing a song is always unique, but I’ve found that I do follow a very loose set of guidelines while doing it, at this point. Here we go.

Inspiration

The first step in writing a song is finding the inspiration for one. Every once in a while I’ll try to sit down with no ideas in mind and try to come up with something, but that hardly ever works–more commonly, I’ll be in the middle of eating dinner or watching a movie or taking notes in class and BOOM: a line or feeling or melody will pop into my head, and I won’t be able to get it to stop playing on repeat for the rest of the day.

Write It Down

The first chance I get, once I’ve gotten that first initial flash of inspiration, I grab paper or my laptop and write down what I’ve got. Then I pull out my guitar and get to work extending the line/melody/feeling into something longer. Sometimes this becomes the chorus, but it’s usually the first verse. I’ve found that when I get the idea for the chorus before anything else, it’s a lot harder for me to finish the song than when I get a verse first (I have a LOT of really catchy choruses sitting all alone in abandoned documents without any verses or bridges to support them).

I pick out what chords I’ll be using for the verses first, then the chorus, then the bridge; I try to have all the chords worked out before I go really heavy-duty into figuring out the words. Sometimes I’ll change the chords a few times while I’m working, but I like to have a template to go off of when I start.

Write with a Template

I write my songs using the basic pop/country song template, because I’ve found it works pretty well. It’s long enough to let you say everything you want to, without being so long that the song loses its focus. It goes as follows:

  • [OPTIONAL INTRODUCTION]
  • VERSE 1
  • [OPTIONAL] TRANSITION TO CHORUS 1
  • CHORUS
  • VERSE 2
  • [OPTIONAL] TRANSITION TO CHORUS 2
  • CHORUS
  • BRIDGE
  • CHORUS (There’s a little wiggle room here for changing the words or melody of the chorus, etc)
  • ENDING

Introduction

I’m not a big fan of lyrical introductions in songs. They’re a bit like prologues in books–rarely actually necessary. Most of the time I’ll just strum the chords from the verse in the introduction. If I do feel like I need to have words in the introduction, I’ll use either one two-line or four-line stanza, then move into the first verse.

Verses

Generally, my verses are either two four-line stanzas or four two-line stanzas long. Or sometimes I’ll do two three-line stanzas. The verses are the meat of the song–where the real conflict and emotion come out.

Transitions

Transitions between the verses and chorus are another optional thing. I generally only use them if there’s a big change in the chords/melody between the verses and chorus, in order to ease into it more. These will either be just a chord change or either one or two two-line stanzas. Transitions are meant to be short and do just that–transition.

Chorus

The chorus is the exciting part of the song. It’s the part that needs to be really catchy, and it’s not as specific as the verses. Whereas they are there to tell the story, the chorus is the more general overall look at what the song’s about. My choruses generally fall into being two four-line stanzas with a repeated melody followed by a three-line stanza with a new one, but that isn’t always the case or how you need to do it. It’s just what I’m most comfortable doing.

Bridge

The bridge is the point in the song when everything’s supposed to change. This is the surprise twist–the climax. I don’t write this until I’ve gotten everything else done, save for the ending. The length varies A TON per song, but I try to shoot for two four-line stanzas and go from there.

After the bridge, I always return to the chorus–however, the chorus isn’t always the same, here, as the one I’ve been using up until this point. Most of the time I’ll play the first half of the chorus twice, or mess with the melody a bit, or change some of the words. Since the point of the bridge is the change the course of the song, it makes sense to change the chorus–which has already been repeated twice and therefore is engrained into your memory a bit at this point–too. It shows how the bridge has really made a difference in whatever the conflict is that the song covers.

Ending

After that, we’re just down to the ending. Sometimes I’ll just end with the chorus, other times I’ll repeat the beginning of the first verse (sometimes with some words changed), or other times I’ll write a whole new bit at the end. When I do that, I try to copy the flow of the verses.

Play With It

Once I’ve got an entire song done, I play it a few times to make sure everything’s doing what it’s supposed to (and also to make sure that I won’t forget the melodies). While I’m doing this, I fix up the lyrics to make sure everything flows and makes sense, and sometimes change around some of the chords.

Then I let the song sit for a while, usually a few days, after which I come back and play the song a few more times, perfecting it more. Once I’ve gotten to the point that I’m no longer making changes every time I play it, I call it done-enough, and voila: I’ve got a song.

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So yeah, that’s my songwriting process. It works pretty well for me and it keeps songwriting fun. I try to set aside a couple hours every few days to work on songs, but usually I just work as close as possible to when that first bit of inspiration strikes.

If there’s anything else writing-related you’d like me to talk about in a future Wordy Wednesday blog post, leave your suggestion(s) in the comments (or email me or whatever) and vote for the Writing Process option in this week’s poll, below. Thanks! (Also, don’t forget to watch and subscribe Hannah and my new vlogging channel on Youtube, Hannah and Julia’s Vlog! We’d really, really appreciate it.)

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“History of Me”)

This week feels SO relaxing after having WriteOnCon last week. The good thing about the entire writing conference being online, though, is that all the blog posts, videos, and Q&As are still available for free. You can check them out on the WriteOnCon website here, or read Super Critique Partner Kira’s recap of the whole thing on her blog, here.

This was my third year attending WriteOnCon, and it just gets better every time. I highly recommend it.

Also, a super generous and talented attendee, L.L. Tisdel, drew a picture of Olivia (the protag of CADENCE) for me. HOW AWESOME IS THIS?

Olivia by Laurie TisdelYou should go check out her work:

Website

Blog

deviantART

Twitter

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song called “History of Me.”

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VERSE1 [C, G, Em, G] [capo 2]

I don’t know what to say, what to do

All I know is I’m staring in the mirror at you

And I’m falling apart

Some of these tears are from happiness rising

Others are from my hopes dying

And my eyeliner’s smearing now

That one song’s playing from the radio

Telling me it’s time to go, go, go

But go where? To be who?

TRANSITION1 [G, Em, C, D]

And I want to be the girl who’s got it all figured out

But instead I can’t even tell if things are going right

CHORUS [G, Em, C, D]

’Cause everything’s falling in place but I’m falling to pieces

Tell me your name and if I can keep this

Just need to know if I should carry on

Life is crazy but I will make it

At least that’s what I say when I’m breaking

Wish I saw the future but maybe not

[C, Em, Am, D… G]

Don’t tell me where I’m going

’Cause I’m better off not knowing

And I’d rather let my dreams rock me to sleep

Dreaming this will someday be

A memory in the history of me

VERSE2 [C, G, Em, G]

I am walking down a street

the sickness is catching up with me

And that sickness is called apathy

For everything in my life

It’s so easy to lose sight of the sun

When you’re so sure someday you’ll have won

The war against the moon

TRANSITION2 [G, Em, C, D]

And I want to be the girl who knows what the future holds

But I don’t know a thing and this night is getting cold

[Repeat CHORUS]

[BRIDGE: C, Em, Am, D]

[Repeat CHORUS]

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 53You should know that I just spent the better part of an hour trying to get this picture. It was this week last year that I started doing the “Thanks for reading!” webcam shots and I decided to try to copy the original… Forty five minutes later, I ended up with this. Not quite the same, but you’re welcome anyway. 😉

~Julia

ANOTHER Apology and Wordy Wednesday (“Fine”)

This is two weeks in a row I’ve missed Wednesday. This is getting bad, guys. Oops.

This week’s (again) belated Wordy Wednesday is a song called “Fine,” which I wrote a few weeks back during a spurt of I-wish-I-had-an-interesting-life-like-Taylor-Swift-so-I’ll-just-make-up-stuff-instead. I then had some fun recording it with an out of tune guitar and some really bad harmonies using Audacity–it’s pretty awful (but sounds slightly better if you listen with cheap ear buds in), but here’s the video anyway.

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Capo 4—C, Em, G, D

INTRO

You called me up at half past 7:00

Told me to meet you at a quarter to 11:00

And I said fine,

But it wasn’t fine

VERSE1

I showed up five minutes late, but you weren’t there

It’s things like that that it so hard to care

But then you arrived, at 12:05

And I said it was fine,

But it wasn’t fine

You slid into the booth on the other side

Running your hand through your hair like you had something to hide

And you didn’t speak for such a long time

CHORUS

And there’s always so much going on

Between the lines

As life wears us down with the daily grind

And you ask me how I’ve been,

And I respond as best I can

That I am fine,

When the truth is I’ve been breaking all this time

But the words get caught up in my mind

So I say fine,

And you say fine

VERSE2

You feel the need to comment on the weather

And I say that it’s too warm for December

And then there’s a silence, that isn’t bad but isn’t right

But it’s how it’s been lately, and it’s better than a fight

So you say fine,

But I don’t think it’s fine

When the waitress comes around to take our order

It’s weird because you don’t order for me

And although sometimes I didn’t want what you said,

I miss you trying to figure out the pictures in my head

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE

I don’t understand what’s going on

I just know that something is so wrong

And when you leave at 1:15

I can’t help thinking this is how it’s meant to be

Just awkward silences and spaces in between

Empty words and stares don’t mean anything

And I’m missing you, I’m missing you

But you don’t even know me

You can’t even see

CHORUS2/ENDING

That there’s always so much going on

Between the lines

As life wears us down with the daily grind

And there’s always so much going on

Between the lines

As life wears us down with the daily grind

And you asked me how I’ve been,

And I responded as best I can

That I was fine,

When the truth has been breaking me all this time

And the words aren’t going to get caught up in my mind anymore

I shout them to your back as you walk out the door

And I say, it’s not fine, we’re not fine, I’m not fine

And at 1:24, you say you know, and nothing more

And that’s the one time, that it truly is fine

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Has anyone gotten any good books as gifts via one of the many holidays the past few weeks?

Oh, also, heads up: I’m finally getting my wisdom teeth out next week, so that might affect the next Wordy Wednesday. But I SWEAR, I will be back in classes the week after that, so things will be back to normal again, okay?

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~Julia

PS. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to enter my One Year Boligversary Giveaway! It ends with the year, so make sure to enter before the clock strikes 12! http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/50b1be0/

Wordy Wednesday (“Choke”)

I was really hoping to get a chance to go down to the dorm practice rooms and make a video to go with this week’s Wordy Wednesday, but I have too much homework tonight. Sorry! Maybe I’ll be able to do one for you later on?

In other news, we had a three-way tie for what the Wordy Wednesday should be between Cadence, a memoir, and a poem or lyrics, and I just finished writing this song yesterday evening, so hey: go good timing.

This song is dedicated to all of those affected by the 9-11 tragedy.

UPDATE: Here’s the video!

 

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Capo 3—Am, G, Em, D

VERSE1

Am I awake,

or am I talking in my sleep?

What is the time of day?

I keep losing the mornings,

and forgetting the nights

Don’t remember the meaning

of a sunrise,

’cause it’s hidden behind the smoke

It’s been eleven years, and

Still you’ve got me in tears

And we weren’t even

All that close

CHORUS

Getting my mind off of you

Is like—catching daisies

On the wind

I can never do it

Since they took you away,

The wind’s been dull, the sky’s been grey,

And I can’t breathe through all this smoke

You’ve got me in a choke,

The day the Towers broke,

The day our nation spoke

And we’ve been silent ever… since

You’ve got me in a choke

(I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,

I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe

I can’t breathe, without you here)

VERSE2

I remember first hearing the news

I was angry at you

I didn’t understand,

You have to understand

You’ve been a ghost at the back of my mind,

Shadowing me all this time

I was a child before you,

And I believed in Peter Pan

Now take me to Neverland,

Where you were never broken

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE

Choke,

Choke,

Choke…

I’m begging for air,

These eleven years of despair

At least now the pain is just a throb,

At the back of my throat

If forgetting means hurting less,

Who am I to stand that test,

It wasn’t just me that was attacked,

It was every one of us

We could hold up the world,

If we stood together

We could wash away the burns,

And pray for better weather

And sure the mem’ries would be there,

But why would we want to forget?

The problem of love is pain,

but pain isn’t what we should regret

[Repeat CHORUS]

ENDING

Am I awake,

or am I talking in my sleep?

What is the time of day?

Tell me when it’s morning again.

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Now go rock some socks, and I’ll see you on Friday!

~Julia

PS. Yes, you should be wondering what that Friday business is all about, since I don’t normally post on that day… hmmm… Any guesses?