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Christopher Morse, Songwriter / Blog

How to Write a Song: Lesson One --A Songwriter's Story

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.

Cathy Kreger
Cathy Kreger  (over 5 years ago)

This was a very inspring read. Thanks you! Love your songs!
Cathy Kreger

Matthew Casteel
Matthew Casteel  (over 5 years ago)

That is so great! What a great lesson. Thanks for sharing.

Chrissy...Unfolding Smooth Jazz
Chrissy...Unfolding Smooth Jazz  (about 5 years ago)

Oh WOW!! Amazing what was put before you when you opened your door. It's just the same application that some of us need today. Allow it to happen....someday you may see the finished product...only in your case...this young skinny kid went on to do greater things!! I don't think he ever forgot you.

Norm Zabala
Norm Zabala  (about 5 years ago)

Awesome story and very encouraging. Thank you for posting this. All the best!

Volary  (almost 5 years ago)

That was an incredible story. I wanted you to know that I reposted it in my blog, with a link to your RN page and credited it to you. It's such a great lesson in songwriting that I wanted to share. I hope you don't mind. If you'd like me to remove it though, just let me know.

John Colella
John Colella  (almost 5 years ago)

I am happy to say that I am not the only person that reads peoples blogs..nice story

Bill Boublitz
Bill Boublitz  (almost 5 years ago)

Couldn't agree more. People ask me how I write what I do and the answer is simple; work. I work, and work, and throw away, and work more... until it's done. So refreshing to hear someone tell the truth. Although I can hear it in your work as I listen. Good wishes!

Stephen Hallett
Stephen Hallett  (almost 5 years ago)

Great story, Christopher!
Thanks for taking the time to share it.

Ted Aukerman
Ted Aukerman  (almost 5 years ago)

Very Cool Story and encouraging to me

Sock Puppet Monkeys
Sock Puppet Monkeys  (almost 5 years ago)

great story.....I like your music

Somarmusic  (almost 5 years ago)

that´s a great post, Christopher!
if you don´t mind i will share it on my blog
crediting you with a link ti your RN.
Like Einstein said:
Work is 1% inspiration and 99% transpiration
happy holidays

Blue Yiperoo
Blue Yiperoo  (over 4 years ago)

Thank you for sharing story; very inspirational.

Soul Census
Soul Census  (over 4 years ago)

Thats so insane you were hanging out with tom waits and not even knowing... I feel your pain on not being able to make up new songs. My singer is always making new songs. Thank you for your story and I enjoyed reading it. Soul Census

Gardening Angel
Gardening Angel  (over 4 years ago)

thank you so much for sharing this lesson.

Emily Pakes
Emily Pakes  (over 4 years ago)

What a great lesson. I remember reading an interview with Fleetwood Mac where they said "you have to be willing to write the bad songs to get to the good ones."

greeneye656  (over 4 years ago)

Nice story, and inspiring not just for song writers but for composers just the same.

Glenn M Campbell
Glenn M Campbell  (about 4 years ago)

Thank you, Christopher.

Dan Kellington
Dan Kellington  (almost 4 years ago)

Lovely lesson 1, Chris.

Rick Rourke & Lost Wages
Rick Rourke & Lost Wages  (almost 4 years ago)


Symmetry  (almost 4 years ago)

I'm not a songwriter but this is very enlightening. That last sentence is sound advice for anything worthwhile that people choose to do with their lives. You're obviously just as good a story writer as you are a songwriter.

paul dean harris
paul dean harris  (almost 4 years ago)

good post enjoyed your wisdom, your music is great

The Roadside Attraction of Joshua Tree
The Roadside Attraction of Joshua Tree  (almost 4 years ago)

Thank you for the great life lessons here, I am an old dog who always painted pictures but loved music as well, great to hear you art and I will keep on working to improve myself.

Witness2  (almost 4 years ago)

Wow Christopher, great story. I also have a lot of songs that I wouldn't want released anywhere-but they were certainly songs from the heart and good experience. So I guess the bottom line is write, write, write! Blessings, Donna

Adepeju Dawodu
Adepeju Dawodu  (over 3 years ago)

Thanks for this inspirational piece. I'll appreciate those practice moments more and more.

Brian Theoret
Brian Theoret  (almost 3 years ago)

That is an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. What an inspiration that must have been!

Art&Roll  (almost 3 years ago)

Thank you for this very insightful anecdote !!

Brian Paul
Brian Paul  (almost 3 years ago)

fascinating! I love tom waits! don't put yourself down too hard...you write very well!

Electrotype  (over 2 years ago)

What an interesting story and good, sage advice!

Ric J. Edmiston
Ric J. Edmiston  (over 2 years ago)

A friend told me once not to wait for the perfect song to come to mind, but to write any song, write write write and something good will come out of it. Your story certainly reaffirms that, and your songs are great!

Corinney and the Dreamies
Corinney and the Dreamies  (almost 2 years ago)

Thank you for the words of wisdom!

Christian  (almost 2 years ago)


The Untimely Watch
The Untimely Watch  (over 1 year ago)

Great story. I've only just started writing songs in the last year or so, it quickly turned into a compulsion that somewhat resembles what you describe (in pace, not necessarily style or quality). I know that other artists write in a way that resembles a war of attrition, just writing song after song until something breaks through, just one song, or a stronger artistic voice. This might be apocryphal, but I read somewhere that Lennon/McCartney wrote something like 200 songs before they wrote anything that made it into a recording. I didn't know that about Tom Waits. Thank you for sharing your music, as well.

Dr G and The Mudcats
Dr G and The Mudcats  (11 months ago)

Great story!

Eli Mine
Eli Mine  (8 months ago)

There is no science. There is only misery, striving and sacrifice to reach your personal goal. -Eli Mine