I had the pleasure of hosting Allison Weiss and her band this weekend when they stopped in my city on their March Radness tour. They put on a great show and are great people, as evidenced by the fact that I gave Allison my last Mega Stuf Oreo. You don’t do that for just anyone, let me tell you.
Allison played my favorite songs of hers at the show, and she talked a little bit about breakups before one of them– “Making it Up.” And I thought about how, maybe more than any other topic, breakups are such a common theme in songwriting.
The two things in life that we seem most in need of giving expression to are the having and the losing of love. We write from our overflow, and we write from our emptiness. And we listen to those songs because they give voice to the wide but universal range of feelings that each of us has about love and its loss.
I hope your heart is happy today. And if it’s not, I hope you’ll fill it with some rad music. And eat a Mega Stuf Oreo.
Let me know:
What are your favorite breakup songs?
Last week was a huge landmark for What a Woman is Worth: After almost a year and a half of hard work and avoidance, of tears and triumph, I sent in the manuscript to the publisher. I ended up writing more of my own life story than I ever imagined I would, which made it far more difficult than I anticipated, but now that it’s done, I find enormous relief in having spoken.
There is something powerful about voice, about speaking, about opening up yourself in a way that you might really be heard. So today’s theme is “speak,” and whether you’re a writer or not, I’d encourage you to find the ways you need to do that– and do it.
(I have no idea why Spotify lists the Noah Gundersen song as “Garden”– it’s actually “Honest Songs.”)
Let me know:
What are your favorite “speak” songs?
This week I will finish the manuscript for What a Woman is Worth, and although it’s been a 16-month process, it has felt like my whole life. This week will also mark 100 days since an enormous, unexpected life change. And as I see my own story come out of me and into pages that I thought were just my project, I see that it is my whole life. It’s been 33 years in the writing and who knows how much longer and where the story will go. So I’m just inking out honesty best I can and letting go of needing to know the next chapter. I am learning gratitude for my story and openness to accept it, and 100 days can change a lot, most of all yourself, when you’re willing to allow it.
You can tell from the varied uses of 100 in the songs here that the concept is both grounding and distant, both so much and so little, depending on the perspective from which you look. A hundred years to live feels forever when you live it in loss; it feels fleeting when you live it in busyness. A hundred dollars is an enormous amount when you can barely afford bread; it’s far too little when you’re offered it for your soul. A hundred miles is an insurmountable distance when you’re going by foot; it’s nothing if you’re on a plane.
So for those joining the writing link-up this week, use the lens of 100 and stay open to the perspective you’re seeing. You might be surprised what it allows you to see of yourself.
Let me know:
What are your favorite “100″ songs?
I have always been fascinated by old houses. I grew up in a beautiful Victorian house in New England, and I was forever on the search for secret passageways– I just felt sure the house had some great adventures hidden within. I never found a passage, but I did manage to lift the old heating grate out of my second-story bedroom floor and drop a bucket down on a string into the kitchen in the middle of my parents’ party. I’m pretty sure they humored me by filling the bucket with whatever my requested item was, but the real glory was that, thanks to the old house’s design, I was making adventures of my own.
That house was my home for so many good years. It was where we became a family when my parents got married and my dad adopted me; it was where my baby brother joined us; it was where I got into trouble with the babysitter, had a backwards birthday party, and fell in love with lilacs.
The themes of house and home are prevalent in writing because of their universal necessity and emotional resonance. Everyone needs a house for their body; everyone needs a home for their soul. The songwriters in today’s playlist explore life journeys, a sense of belonging or of missing, and relationships– all centered around the theme of house or home. For those participating in the link-up, explore a way “house” or “home” has been especially meaningful to you.
Thanks to my friend Caeli of These Lonely Walls for the inspiration for this week’s theme!
Let me know:
What are your favorite house or home songs?
I’ve been hard at work the past week writing my section introductions for What a Woman is Worth, and by that I mean, “having emotional breakdowns and hardly writing at all.” I am faced once again with ghosts of my past, and I will exorcise them– turn them from passive memory into active story, and I will be well– but the getting there is damned hard.
So this week’s theme is “ghosts.” For those interested in joining the blog link-up, take inspiration from these songwriters’ different uses of the ghost metaphor– a thing, person, or memory that haunts you; an emptiness or fear inside you; a love lost; a past to be left behind; an intangible longing. And keep in mind that ghost stories don’t necessarily have to be sinister or sad– there can be holiness raised from darkness, and spirit reborn.
Let me know:
What are your favorite ghost songs?
Last week I began Mixtape Mondays with the simple idea of sharing some good music here because music and writing are my hand-in-hand loves, and I know the same is true for a lot of the people who read this blog. But because I’m doing it thematically and because a big part of my job as an editor is helping people direct their thoughts toward better writing, I quickly realized the potential the series has to be a writing prompt. So I’m including a link-up at the bottom of the post for anyone who’d like to participate– just come back and add your link throughout the week.
This week’s theme is “covered.” All the songs in my playlist are covers where the artist has taken someone else’s song and reimagined it. The best covers bring something new to a song, whether through different arrangement, instrumentation, or vocalization. (I’m not a big fan of covers that sound almost exactly like the original– that’s called karaoke.)
The key to a good cover isn’t in being a copycat– it’s in bringing something of yourself to the piece so that it’s transformed.
So, for this week’s writing prompt, take a piece of writing– a poem, a Bible story, a folk tale, a song, anything that inspires you– and reimagine it. (You can check out how I’ve done this in the past with a poem and a parable.) Cover it with yourself, your story, your imagination, your perspective. And don’t forget to come back and drop us a link!
Let me know:
What are your favorite cover songs?
Two things you should know: I wasn’t going to tell this story, and if I could give you all a plate of my hot chocolate chip cookies, I really would.
A few weeks ago, I shared my exciting news that I’d gotten a literary agent, and you were generous with your happiness for me. I wanted to thank each person who left me a congratulatory comment, but the comments section yells at me with warning messages when I try to leave a duplicate reply, and I don’t know 70-something ways to say, “Thank you so much. Your support means everything to me.”
But you know I can find a way to subvert the system.
So when several people asked me to tell the story of how it happened, I decided I ought to set aside my fears of sounding braggy and just tell it. And I figured I’d lavish you with gifts while I was at it because nothing says “thank you” like fresh chocolate chip cookies, but free books come close. (More on that below.)
This is the story:
I think because TOL is a place to say what you often can’t elsewhere, a lot of the guest post submissions I get are either very vulnerable or very boundary-pushing. Posts like these can be wonderful because vulnerability allows for community and connection, and pushing boundaries can create more space to think and grow.
You can see that I do a lot of this in my own writing, but what you may not see is that I take a lot of care to walk an often thin and tremulous line between saying everything that I think and saying everything that I think is beneficial. When people call me “unfiltered,” I sometimes think, If you only knew…
So when I get submissions that go too far, I don’t use them, but I think it might be helpful for my fellow bloggers and writers to understand how I come to decide what can and can’t be said here, not necessarily so that you might have a successful guest post for me (though that would be lovely), but so that it might help you decide how to go about determining your own boundaries in blogging and writing.
When you consider using words, images, or stories that have clear potential to shock, you have to be really honest with yourself about not only your intentions but also the ramifications for your readers. You can have the deepest, most life-changing thought, but if you present it in a way that turns people off, they will have a hard time letting your good message sink in. So when you re-read what you’ve written, you need to see if you can comfortably square it with how you want to present your thoughts and yourself to your audience.
Try running these questions by your very most honest self:
- Do you want to shake them up so they’ll really have to consider something differently, or do you just want to shake them up so that you can grab their attention?
- Are you making them uncomfortable only out of necessity?
- Is there a more gracious way to approach?
- How will the shocking elements affect the trust/rapport you’ve built with your audience?
What advice would you add for determining boundaries in writing? Do you struggle more with letting your writing be a little risky or with reining it in?