My New Guitar — and the Importance of Writing it Down

Last night, my dad and my sister presented me with a new guitar they had made as a belated birthday present. My dad did the assembly and staining, and my sister did the woodburned artwork. The photos don’t do it justice, but she took kind of a “collage” approach, including images of many things that are important to my life — my pets, unicorns, books, and on the back, Rapunzel. Even my guitar is telling me there’s no excuse not to get back to writing that thing! (Well, except taking time to write about my guitar. That seems like a good excuse.)

Rapunzel
The prince

After my family went home, I pulled out my old journal where I’d written songs back in 2003 – 2006. Paging through it, I liked seeing some of the songs I’d forgotten about. The notebook is sort of a time capsule of some of my most defining experiences while I lived in Duluth, and I was so glad I had written them down. Just seeing the lyrics in my messy handwriting brought me back to that huge apartment with the shiny linoleum floors, and all that sunlight coming in through the windows.

Dad, Krystl, me, and the guitar

But I was somewhat dismayed to find that, except in the earliest songs (incidentally, the ones that I don’t think are as good), I didn’t write down the chord progressions — just the lyrics. I remember that back when I used to play regularly, I had all the songs I’d written memorized, as well as a handful of songs I hadn’t written. So I  “assumed” I’d just always know my own music. I wish I hadn’t made that assumption! If only I had foreseen that, in the future, I’d go three years without even touching my guitar — but that one day I’d want to play those songs again, and share them with my husband. Now, I have to do my best to relearn the chords based on my memory of how the songs were supposed to sound, and I’m cursing my laziness in the midst of the initial creative bursts!

All of this drives home to me the importance of writing things down if we really want to hold onto them. Heck, it’s thanks to the written word that we’re able to know as much as we do know about the past, and historians often find themselves wishing our ancestors had bothered to write more. Another mistake I made was in not dating the songs. Although I have a rough idea about when they were written based on content, I wish I had the exact dates there, since, especially without the chords written down, they’re almost just glorified journal entries. Someday when I’m famous, my biographers are going to be frustrated by this lack of foresight on my part as they comb through my various written ephemera. 😉 (I just finished reading Lyndall Gordan’s absolutely amazing biography of Emily Dickinson, Lives Like Loaded Guns, which includes the difficulty of dating some of Emily’s undated poetry and letters, which is why that detail stuck out — not because I’m so conceited that I think that’s actually going to be an issue, I swear.)

As a writer, the most important thing I can do is write. One of my pet peeves is people who think of themselves as writers because “they have their whole story all planned out in their heads.” That’s the easy part; you’re not a writer until you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Before that, all you’ve got is thoughts — and we’ve all got plenty of those.

I can at least be grateful that I wrote down as much as I did, and made tapes of the songs (somewhere) that I should be able to dig up and listen to for reference. So, now I have one more endeavor to add to my endless list of creative goals. When can I retire, again?

2 Responses to “My New Guitar — and the Importance of Writing it Down”

  1. G

    That’s… incredible. It looks like it plays rainbows.

    About writing things down–looking back, I find that it’s one of those small things that make a huge difference. I was frustrated and depressed because none of my ideas seemed to “go anywhere”. For a ridiculously long time I was under the misapprehension that ideas grew in your mind like a plant, all the way from seed to sapling, and this was the “test” of whether they were even worth writing down; if they didn’t make it to an advanced state of development, it must’ve been a bad idea.

    Once I started writing stuff down, even initially flawed or basic ideas suddenly had a place to mutate and grow in new ways; I could look at an old idea that had gone stale and suddenly see a new twist on it. These kind of simple, practical points are why I think it’s such a shame that while anyone who did well in English at school can go on to do an English Lit degree, just try to get a real mentor to help you grow as a writer; it’s not so easy. Budding writers need practical pointers more than they need critical theory, which they can read in their own time, anyway.

    Renaissance painters would get apprenticed to a master and work closely with them every day; there’s nothing like that for writers. So many failures, delays and discouragements could be avoided with a little advice from someone more experienced.

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  2. Lacey Louwagie

    I really agree with what you say about the way new angles become apparent when we start to write something. In the writing classes I used to teach (for senior citizens and for tweens/teens), I used to tell them that the only cure for writers block was to write.

    Your analogy to the plant is very apt. In some ways, expecting an idea to grow to completion inside your mind is about as silly as expecting a seed to grow if you leave it in the packet. Instead, you have to plant it somewhere where it can stay, and take root, and then care for it regularly — all applicable to writing.

    You know, I’ve never felt myself at a “loss” for mentorship because writing is just something I’ve always done, and I’ve always read about it, too — but I very often find myself thinking back to things that particular teachers in college told me, or that writers I’ve worked with for other parts of my job have said. So I think maybe “mentoring” is more important to me than I realize. I do wonder what it might be like to have a long-term relationship with a more proficient writer who could foster my growth — sort of like how musicians often get the opportunity to “jam” with more proficient musicians. Although, I have been lucky that my writers group performs a lot of the functions a mentor might — thoughtful feedback, accountability, etc.

    Thanks for your comment!

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