Your Own Song: What you Need to Know about Writing

sheetmusic.jpgI started writing songs because it was easier than trying to learn other people’s.

A few years back, some ten-year-old kid asked his parents for a guitar. He wanted to be like Roy Rogers.

A few years later, the kid started a band with some buddies and they wrote their own song. It was downhill from there.

The music industry is a tough one – probably tougher than the writing industry (hard as that may be to believe for many pen masters out there). It’s who you know and being in the right place at the right time.

Musicians love music for what it is, for better or for worse. Some end up shooting to stardom, like Nickelback. Some sink down and end up playing on weekends in low-class bars. Some, like Kid Rock, hover somewhere in the middle; famous enough to be known, not good enough to really make it huge.

Throughout their whole life, musicians play, for better or for worse. They never give up. And that’s something they have in common with writers.

Loving what you do, no matter how great at it or how bad at it you are, is the sum of being yourself. There are writers out there who struggle every day to get something that sounds just okay. Some manage to hit the big times and shoot to fame.

Some writers try, banging away for years as they aim for that big break. It never comes, and they get discouraged. Deep down, they know it wasn’t meant to be. But they never quit loving language.

They never turn their back on writing. It’s what they love. Words are in them.

That Roy Rogers wannabe tried for years for his big break. He banged away at it and kept on doing what he loved best. He traveled, he tried to get people to listen. They wouldn’t. They wanted something harder, something more cutting edge.

In the blogging world these days, change is coming. The virtual world rumbles and we’re at the crack of the canyon, waiting to see who’s on one side and who’s on the other. The tempest is coming – are you ready for it?

That boy was. Change was rumbling up in Canada around 1984 or so. Musicians were making waves, trying new things on to see what fit and what worked. That boy hadn’t given up yet. He’d failed, he’d crashed, but he never lost his love for music.

He never gave up.

And when he saw the change happening, he was ready. It still took three years before his time came, but he stuck with music and kept his chin up. He was going to ride the waves and come out on top.

Did he?

Jim Cuddy and Blue Rodeo went on to earn 7 Juno Awards and 7 SOCAN awards. They’re one of the most successful and well known Canadian bands, with over 11 albums under their belt – and counting.

What made the difference in Jim’s life?

I started writing songs because it was easier than trying to learn other people’s. – Jim Cuddy

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Brett Legree says:

    Never give up.

    James, a very *very* powerful post.

    Do what you love, like Jim Cuddy. All of us here have what it takes, I believe. And we’ll be ready.

    Thanks for the words, inspiration, and support over the last couple of months. I couldn’t get to where I am, without help from people like you.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..why six weeks.

  2. Brett Legree says:

    PS – I’ll be taking your lead, in the coming months – I find a lot of inspiration in musicians, and it is hard not to write about them :)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..why six weeks.

  3. Nice post. Although I’m not sure the Kid Rock example is doing you any favors. He’s sold more than 22 million records and his 2007 release debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. It’s nothing to sneeze at.

    I’m willing, however, to concede there might be some inequities in the US fame to Canadian fame exchange rate.

    Rob in Denver’s last blog post..On being prolific

  4. @ Rob – He’s struggled to be accepted from day one, kept at it for years and still faces high criticism regardless of what he does and tries. Nothing to sneeze at, certainly, but compared to even bigger musicians, he still faces some challenges (and he’s not an *excellent* musician or singer.)

    I’m a huge fan, though.

  5. Brett Legree says:

    I agree with James. Kid Rock wouldn’t be where he is if, if he had given up. And look where he is now… :)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..why six weeks.

  6. I guess the point I was making was that I see Kid Rock’s “stardom” as roughly equivalent to Nickelback’s, at least in terms of album sales (22 million to 25 million). Plus, Kid Rock’s been a rock artist since the mid-90s, which is roughly the same time frame that Nickelback formed. Given these, I just didn’t see any significant difference between them. (Hence the joke about the US to Canadian fame exchange rate.)

    I’m also wondering about Blue Rodeo… is the band huge in Canada? I know in the early-ish 90s there was a lot of hope for them here (especially after Crash Test Dummies broke in the US) and they had a few records do modestly well Stateside.

    Rob in Denver’s last blog post..On being prolific

  7. Brett Legree says:

    @ Rob: that’s true re: Kid vs. Nickelback, so I see your point that way. Blue Rodeo is pretty popular where I live (small town Eastern Ontario)… :)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..why six weeks.

  8. @ Rob – Hm, don’t think I compared Kid Rock to Nickelback… and I wouldn’t have, either, because I feel they have about the same success. Nickelback is pretty damned big in Canada.

    Blue Rodeo is HUGE in Canada. They’re almost icons of Canadian music and the name is recognized by all – and usually everyone knows the words, too. Alanis Morrisette is another, Great Big Sea a third.

    I’m often confused when I realize I’m talking about a huge band that no one Stateside is familiar with. We hear so many U.S. groups and singers on the radio that it doesn’t occur to me that Canadian singers wouldn’t be as familiar to Americans.

    Then again, Canadians have particularly distinct tastes and flavors in music that don’t seem to interest the U.S. Shame, that.

  9. “Loving what you do, no matter how great at it or how bad at it you are, is the sum of being yourself” — that’s passion right there, one of the things we always hear about in choosing a profession/vocation.

    One might still need a day job while pursuing one’s dream, but “persistence prevails when all else fails” is a favorite quote of mine.

    Thanks for the warm fuzzies today, James.

    Nez’s last blog post..Dial ?M? for Blogger

  10. I’ve never heard of any of the musicians you mentioned. (Yes, I live in a cave.) But I get the concept of what you’re saying, and I think it’s a good one.

    It made me chuckle and nod, because I can relate a little bit.

    I can’t read music (very well), but I can play by ear. I was called a freak by every orchestra/band/music teacher from third grade and up. I was told I’d never get anywhere and to quit. So I hid away with my instruments, played at home, taught myself the songs I wanted to learn. Never wanted to make it big (or “make it” at all); I just loved it.

    Same went for writing — teachers said I had good ideas but would never amount to anything, because I couldn’t learn what a dangling participle was (still don’t know, still don’t care). Then, a few years into high school, I found out I’m dyslexic. These days, I’d probably have gotten into any college on a “hey, she’s disabled, let’s cash in on that Affirmative Action” policy. As things were, I was frustrated and dropped out of high school.

    I still have my cello (and various other instruments), and a big old pox of #2 pencils. I do what I like, and am a success in my own mind. The world can kiss my booty. :-)

    Amy’s last blog post..Freelance Mentality: Do You Have What It Takes?

  11. Great post!

    And yes Blue Rodeo is huge in Canada. I’d add Tragically Hip to the list of “Great Canadian Bands Who May Not Be Huge In America”, but that’s not the point of the post…

    James, what’s the big change in blogging that you allude to? Blogging seems to be under constant change so I’m not sure which change you were thinking about.

    Your site is very inspiring . Thanks!

    Mark Dyck’s last blog post..Structure you have vs. structure you need

  12. Hey, Mark, good to have you around and thanks for the kind words. We should put together a list of great Canadian bands – you’re right on Tragically Hip. Bryan Adams is another :)

    As for the change in the blogosphere, for some time, everyone was telling the top ten tips, the how tos, the do this and do that. People are tired of it; read 1,384 versions of “how to SEO your content” and see if your eyeballs don’t fall out.

    Content is changing. The virtual world is changing, too. The days of Adsense are over. There’s too much garbage and crap. People are refocusing to discover exactly where to go now with the Internet and stretch the boundaries they’ve set for themselves.

    We’re all facing where to go and what to do with our future – and make no mistake, this is our future. Continue to impload or change and grow… I seek to ride the wave and face what’s coming with open arms.

    Two of the best posts that explain my thoughts are here:

    http://menwithpens.ca/getting-creative-with-your-content
    http://www.copyblogger.com/content-success/

    Enjoy.

  13. I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 11 along with a few other instruments. Maybe I never hit it big because I always found it easier to play other people’s music. Like Amy, my ear could just pick it up and I could play it.

    I agree that a lot of people are tired of hearing 10 tips to improve your SEO. But who are those people tired of hearing it?
    –> The people who’ve already read it and been reading blogs for awhile.

    Admittedly I’m new to blogging, but as long as you’re writing to your target customer and focusing in on them, I don’t see a problem with it. Don’t get me wrong, I want James, Harry, Brett, Bob, Amy, etc. to all come over and read my blog, but they aren’t my target customer. Telling the same story in a different way has been around forever and will always be there. This is nothing new in marketing and business.

    Perhaps if you don’t want to lose a few blog readers by posting a bunch of stuff many of them already know, pop that 10 ways to . . . article in a static web page you can point customers to.

    As far as the big change coming, I think we have to follow technology to see were it takes writing and blogging. Personally, I think mobility will be big soon. Maybe your car will read your blog subscriptions to you . . . or your house! Now, only if the house could make my coffee, too.

    @ Amy – no wonder you live in a cave. Your teachers were telling you your ideas would never amount to anything ;) From the looks of things, you appear to be doing just fine.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Budgeting 101: A Smart Plan That Keeps You Safe & Allows For Wealth Building

  14. @ James – just read http://menwithpens.ca/getting-creative-with-your-content

    That’s a great post. First, it made me laugh hearing James rant. Second, your absolutely correct – being innovative and willing to take the lead and not follow is the best route.

    Question, though. I don’t have a feed reader, I just use FireFox’s live bookmarks. Does my feed cut you off? I don’t even know. If so, how do I change it?

    Thanks

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Budgeting 101: A Smart Plan That Keeps You Safe & Allows For Wealth Building

  15. @ John – Nope, you’re all good. You’ve heard me ranting at you if you were giving me partial feeds, trust me :)

  16. Cool. Actually, I’m checking out Google’s reader now. Probably should have done that long ago since feedburner tells me it’s the most popular used on my site.

    Which do you use?

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Budgeting 101: A Smart Plan That Keeps You Safe & Allows For Wealth Building

  17. @ John – Google Reader. It rocks. What are you waiting for?

  18. Brett Legree says:

    @ John: a second vote for Google Reader (I’m sure a lot of others might agree). I think for me the only thing it doesn’t give is “instant updates”, as there’s a time delay between when a post would show up on something like NetNewsWire (I have that on one of my Macs) and Google Reader.

    But the ability to check it from anywhere is a fair trade-off.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..why six weeks.

  19. Great point Brett (can check it from anywhere). But you still have to go to the actual website to comment .. uh, right?

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Budgeting 101: A Smart Plan That Keeps You Safe & Allows For Wealth Building

  20. Brett Legree says:

    @ John: oh yes, definitely – of course, that’s not a problem for me as I always have the MwP web site open, 24/7 :) :) :)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..why six weeks.

  21. @ John – Yes, but that’s actually an advantage. How much time does it take and how many resources on your computer are used up to open a whole bunch of browser pages to visit a website?

    With a feed reader, you may visit the website on a less regular basis, but you do click through from your reader when you have something to add to the conversation.

    That generally means that those who use feed readers make their clicks count. If they *really* have something to say, they’ll come say it. If they’re just goofing off, well… they’ll pass. And we save the space.

  22. *my learning wheels are spinning*

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Budgeting 101: A Smart Plan That Keeps You Safe & Allows For Wealth Building

  23. Hey James, thanks for the links. Now that I understand your views better I see that they line up with something I’ve been struggling with for a while.

    I’ve got this habit of making connections between different facets of my life. Say, internet geek stuff and my kid’s sports team. Or bread baking and telecom. Or personal productivity and creative writing. With so many ideas mulling about it makes finding a focus for my blog very difficult, indeed.

    The Crossroads metaphor helps alot. Interesting stuff lives at the intersections of these seemingly unrelated interests. Well, interesting to me at least, and perhaps interesting to others if I actually start writing about them. :-)

    I’m reading Dan Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind” which talks about ‘synthesis’ as a skill which is becoming highly valued. Sort of the opposite of ‘analysis.’ Maybe synthesis is a way of recognizing and illuminating the crossroads, which makes for creative content and gives James great joy.

    Or I’ve missed the point entirely.

    PS — Add Hawksley Workman and Danny Michel to your CanRock list if you think they have wide enough Canadian appeal! :-)

    Mark Dyck’s last blog post..Structure you have vs. structure you need

  24. I make connections with just about everything and I find that’s the most interesting way to philosophize about content creation.

    Hey. I find connections with sex and writing and sharp-dressed content, so there you go.

    PS – Maybe not in Quebec, never heard of them. Celine Dion, perhaps? Stompin’ Tom? Red Green? Hey, he sort of hums…

  25. Quebec, eh? How about Les Cowboys Frignats then? I picked up “Attache Ta Tuque” on the recommendation of a clerk at the Music World in Ottawa. He claimed they were all the rage. Absolutely love it, although I have no idea what they’re singing about.

    I can see that I’ll be spending lots of time in your site archives…

    Mark Dyck’s last blog post..Structure you have vs. structure you need

  26. @ Mark – Dude. Now you’re talkin’. Kevin Parent is another one I like very much. La Bottine Souriante is good drinking music, too. Enjoy the archives with my blessing.

    @ Amy – I play by ear, too :) With classical training. My piano teacher hated my ears and my guitar coach loved ‘em. Go figure.

  27. James, you don’t know how much it freaks me out to see someone named Mark Dyck here… too close to my own name.

    Regardless, lots of wisdom in this post, but I’m sure you already know that. Cheers!

    Mark Dykeman’s last blog post..Thoughts about social media labels

  28. First you tell us to give up our dreams, then you tell us never give up? Make up your mind, man! (I’m kidding! I loved both of these articles, and found them both extremely useful!)

    @ John – Agreed. James is NOT my target audience (sorry, but you said you don’t like sushi!) Brett is my target audience. The rest of you… I have no idea if you like sushi or not, so… come on over if you like sushi, otherwise I’ll just hang out with you here! :D

    I think that it’s okay to write about the same things as other people do, as long as you have a personal anecdote or something to differentiate it and make it REALLY interesting. For example, in the food blogging community there are a lot of *events* where a bunch of food bloggers will all make the exact same recipe, and then blog about it. Yet it doesn’t get old when everyone on my feedreader (I use Netvibes) is writing about the same thing, because they all have different stories and experiences that they write about.

    Allison’s last blog post..It’s Your Time To Shine!

  29. Hey, I’m a demographic category! :)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the bridge.

  30. @ Mark and Mark – You think it’s surreal for you? It’s confusing as hell for me! lol

    @ Allison – Actually, I’ve never eaten sushi, so I can’t say I don’t like it. And yes, you have the right of it. Write something INTERESTING.

  31. @ James – Ah, so a sushi virgin! Don’t worry, I know how to start out gentle… ;) *packs up her sushi equipment and catches a flight to Canada*

    Allison’s last blog post..It’s Your Time To Shine!

  32. Ah James, you give me hope. As you persevere and perfect your passion, the thing that strikes me is also recognizing and seizing the opportunity. While remaining true to your own vision, being ready also means realizing that the twist in the road is not a detour but the beginning to a new journey and sometimes it is that road which leads you to your destination.

  33. @ Karen – I love adventure and change. I embrace it… and hey, I love the forward thinking of, “Hmm, where will this take me?” My mother often asks, “What are you getting yourself into now?” and my answer is often, “Hey, I have no clue but I’ll find out!”

    @ Allison – Bring your ski parka :)

  34. Brett Legree says:

    @ James & Allison – today she might want to bring a snow shovel, but not for the snow – I’m going to be shoveling the water out of my carport tonight, so it doesn’t freeze… :)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..why six weeks.

  35. @ James – I think the last time I had a ski parka that fit me was when I was 10, going on a winter snow trip with my girl scouts troop. *Makes a U-turn and goes to peruse clearance sales, trying to find a ski parka*

    Allison’s last blog post..It’s Your Time To Shine!

  36. This is a *WOW* kind of post. Thank you. Very inspiring.

    I’ll go back to my tap tap tapping away on the keyboard now.

    :) Kelly

    Kelly@SHE-POWER’s last blog post..What is the Music of Your Life?

Trackbacks

  1. 31 Articles Worth Reading: A Special Monday Edition of Link Love | Writer's Resource Center says:

    [...] Your Own Song: What you Need to Know about Writing [...]

  2. [...] Loving what you do, no matter how great at it or how bad at it you are, is the sum of being yourself. James of Men With Pens. [...]

  3. [...] you blog, believe in yourself too. Hang onto your determination. Stick with it. Find your voice and get out there on the stage. [...]

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