In 1969, I lived for a while in San Francisco, sharing an apartment on Francisco Street with my brother and his soon-to-be wife. My brother attended the Art Institute while I worked occasionally as a day laborer on the docks. Most of the rest of my time was spent trying to write songs. I'd sit in the kitchen with my dog, Rain Dog, stretched out at my feet, trying to come up with ideas, strumming chords on my guitar and stringing words together, mostly without much luck. I did manage to complete a few songs during my six or so months on Francisco Street, but nothing I’d admit to now..... .... Toward the end of my time there, a guy knocked on my door one day, a skinny little kid with a guitar in his hand--also a fair description of me at the time. He said he was visiting with friends upstairs, who had told him I was a songwriter. Well, so was he, and maybe I'd like to get together and play songs back and forth. I said sure, come on in. We spent the next two hours or so playing songs to each other, neither one of us commenting much on the other's tunes. .... .... I was not blown away by his songs. It seemed to me that he and I were on more or less the same level. What did amaze me was that after the two hours or so, when I had played everything I had written since I started trying to write songs six years earlier at age 14, he just kept going. He had probably played six or eight more before I made some excuse, and brought things to a close. But it wasn't over..... .... For the next few weeks, or however long he stayed there on Francisco Street, he would come down every other day or so with his guitar and a bunch of new songs he wanted me to hear. It was really annoying. He wrote as many songs in a week as I wrote in a year. No they weren't all brilliant, but some of them weren't bad, and good or bad, he had more. Was he completely obsessed with writing songs? Didn't he have anything better to do? Apparently, the answers to those questions were yes and no, respectively..... .... I've been a little coy here, not telling you this guy's name. It was Tom Waits. I forgot all about him until a few years later, when I heard him mentioned as the writer of the Eagles hit "Ol’ 55". Still wasn't sure it was the same guy until the mid 1980s, when he put out his ninth album, entitled Rain Dogs. I'm sure he had forgotten all about me, too, but my dog's name stuck with him..... .... What does this have to do with how to write a song? All those forgettable tunes he played for me (no, "Ol' 55" was not among them) weren't failures: They were practice. They were getting into the habit of writing songs all the time. They were a sign of his respect for the art and craft of songwriting and his commitment to doing it well..... .... It took me a while longer than it took Tom Waits to discover how much work and dedication it takes to write good songs, how many forgettable tunes I have to endure for every song I feel honestly proud to have written, and how many times I just won't know whether what I've written is a work of art or a piece of junk. .... .... I'll never have the kind of songwriting success that Tom Waits has enjoyed, and chances are, you won't either. But the example he unknowingly set for me is, I think, the perfect Lesson One for any aspiring songwriter. Take it seriously, give it all you have, and keep at it.