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    Music and Lyrics and The Truth About Writing

    Sara Rosett Icon

    Hollywood rarely gets the creative/writerly characters and situations right. (Just one case in point is the mom character in Cheaper By The Dozen. A publisher picks up her book and in about two minutes she’s touring and has an Oprah appearance scheduled.) So I was surprised that the movie Music and Lyrics gave several fairly accurate glimpses of what the life of a professional artist is like, whether that person is a painter, songwriter, composer, or novelist.

    Music and Lyrics is a chick flick and I wasn’t expecting anything heavy or overly soul searching in a movie about a wash-up ‘80s pop singer trying to make a comeback. It lived up to its billing, as a light romantic comedy but it went a bit further as it illustrated these truths about being a person who strives to make a living from his—or her—creative ventures:

    Truth #1: “In the end it’s all just business.”

    After the new pop singer’s version of their sweet song twists it into something that “simultaneously destroyed two musical cultures,” Alex (Hugh Grant) tells his principled lyricist, Sophie (Drew Barrymore), that she’s not going to be able to convince the singer to change the song back to their version because “in the end it’s all just business.”

    I certainly learned this lesson. I love to write and create characters and plots, but if I want anyone else to read that writing it has to be saleable. Publishing is a business, not a charity, and the companies have to make money. I don’t always agree with the business decisions (that’s another post), but I do understand that they have to show a profit. They’re taking a gamble with every book they publish. The trick, as Alex discovers in the movie, is to balance the business side with the creative side. Still working on that myself!

    Truth #2: Sometimes you fail.

    When Alex takes Sophie to a music store and shows her his solo album, he tells her he only sold a few copies and most of those went to his mother. Then he says the particular copy they’re looking at has been in the stores for years—literally. He’s made a mark on the case so he can check to see if it has sold.

    This scene perfectly captured the agony and the ecstasy of presenting your work to an audience. The ecstasy: doing the “shelf check” at the local bookstore and proudly signing copies. The agony: returning two weeks later (or a month or three months) and seeing those exact books are still there—as in they haven’t sold. Not good. Sometimes you hit the mark and sometimes you don’t. And missing the mark can happen in the writing part or in the publicity part.

    Truth #3: “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

    When Sophie says she can’t write the last verse of the song because she doesn’t feel inspired, Alex tells her “inspiration is for amateurs.”

    Sometimes parking myself in front of my laptop is the hardest thing I do all day. There’s always plenty of other pressing things that need to be done: errands to run, laundry to fold, dishes to do, bills to pay, a dog to walk, a rather dusty workout CD with my name on it. But if make myself start, then I’m sucked into the written world and time flies.

    Truth #4: “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just spit it out.”

    It took me a long time to learn this—and I mean years. The first draft is just that: a draft. It’s supposed to be messy and rough. I even wrote an article about this truth called Just Get Something Down on Paper. It’s in the November 2006 issue of The Writer Magazine. I’m glad all those years of waiting for the muse paid off in some way!

    So, do you have any “truths” about writing? Or as Oprah would say, what do you know for sure about writing? No movie references required.

    Oh, and by the way, if you haven’t seen the movie, the video for Pop Goes My Heart is great fun, especially for those of us who grew up on cheesy story-telling music videos with the puffy haired, shoulder-pad-wearing guy groups of the 80s.

    12 Responses to “Music and Lyrics and The Truth About Writing”

    1. I know it’s a chick flick, but I LOVED that movie, for many of the reasons you mention and a few more (there is a mild spoiler in #2):

      1. Much of the music was composed by Adam Schlesinger, who’s in one of my favorite bands, Fountains of Wayne. Those guys are the masters of ironically cheesy pop.

      2. My daughter still walks around singing “Way Back Into Love”.

      3.I like the way that the “new pop singer” defies cliche by NOT being an egotistical spoiled monster. She’s a bit flighty, but in the end is quite sweet.

      Which I guess is my “truth” about writing: don’t be pessimistic and cynical, becuase you just never know what’s going to happen.

      by J.D. Rhoades on August 8th, 2007 at 7:17 am

    2. Dang…the spoiler’s in #3.

      by J.D. Rhoades on August 8th, 2007 at 7:17 am

    3. That’s some good advice, Sara.

      Truth #4: “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just spit it out.”
      My first novel seemed to flow out of my head and onto the paper. It wasn’t pretty, but it cleaned up nicely on the subsequent rewrites. I basically wrote 100,000 words in about 5 months. (keep in mind, I still slave for Corporate America. You mainstream American beer is environmentally safe.) I struggled with my second novel until I figured out that I’m trying to write too perfectly. I need to just “Spit it out.”

      Truth #1: “In the end it’s all just business.”
      I learned that when I had to drop 2 chapters and do a major rewrite to make the story flow better. I loved those 2 chapters about China.

      Truth #3: “Inspiration is for amateurs.”
      It’s nice when I can take my laptop down the street and sit on a bench on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi and write with the cool breeze in my hair. But that only happens about three days a year. More often I have to be inspired crammed between a portly man and a curvey woman in coach flying from St. Louis to San Antonio.

      Truth #2: Sometimes you fail.
      With my first novel about 8 months from publication, I’m not ready to comment on this yet. I want the chance to succeed.

      by Will Bereswill on August 8th, 2007 at 7:19 am

    4. Fountains of Wayne will be one of my favorite bands of all time if they never record another song besides Stacy’s Mom (Has Got It Going On). Oh yeah.

      I haven’t seen this movie because I break into hives watching Drew Barrymore play cute. The only good thing about Drew’s career is that she’s often in movies with Adam Sandler and I can miss both of them by skipping one movie, thereby boosting my suck avoidance quotient by 100%.

      But I have to admit, those truths are spot on. So, Fountains of Wayne alum and truth about the arts vs Drew Barrymore in a cute romance.

      Nah. I can’t do it.

      And no, I haven’t had my coffee yet. How could you tell?

      by David Terrenoire on August 8th, 2007 at 7:25 am

    5. Truth #5. You gotta love it.

      I don’t think any of us would stay in the writing game if we didn’t “love” it, or, perhaps more accurately, “have to” write.

      I get grumpy if I don’t write. It’s in my blood. Sure, I hope it all works out and I’m the next #1 NYT Bestseller…but even if I never hit that I’ll keep on going. Because I want to.

      by Laura on August 8th, 2007 at 7:44 am

    6. David, Dude. You mean you didn’t like Happy Gilmore?

      Actually, I’m not sure if this qualifies, but I did like Drew Barrymore in Ever After.

      I bought the DVD Music & Lyrics for the family, but have no real desire to watch it.

      by Will Bereswill on August 8th, 2007 at 8:58 am

    7. Love truth # 4. It’s a consoling truth when I have to write in less than ideal circumstances (which is almost always)and know it’s awful prose. Is there any more rotten feeling than knowing you’re writing badly? Not writing at all.

      Yrs. ago I read a quote from some famous modern author who said he was a really lousy writer, but quite a good rewriter. Anyone know the quote/author?

      Oh, and David, I’m so with you–no amount of coffee will make Adam Sandler viewable.

      by Cynthia on August 8th, 2007 at 9:54 am

    8. Hey, JD, I thought it was an entertaining flick as well — and I agree that Spoiler #3 was a refreshing surprise.

      by Diana Killian on August 9th, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    9. Will, absolutely true about #4. I have to relearn this bitter lesson every single damn book I write.

      Why is it so hard to let go and…let it pour. The whole process is organic. You have to get the bare bones down in order to GET the great ideas that come with the rewrite. Yet I always want to skip straight to the rewrite.

      by Diana Killian on August 9th, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    10. David, I’m not a Drew fan either, but this was a pleasant surprise of a movie. Or maybe I just like Hugh Grant A LOT.

      by Diana Killian on August 9th, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    11. SARA, COME HOME QUICK!!! :lol:

      by Diana Killian on August 9th, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    12. Hey, everyone–sorry to be so late in checking in, but I’m on the road with no internet. I must get one of those chips for my computer that lets me log on anywhere!

      Glad to see the movie surprised some of you. I loved the music as well, JD, and I thought the actress who played the pop star did a great job, too.

      Sorry for all the spoilers–didn’t think about that. Hopefully, they haven’t ruined if for you–except for you, David. Doesn’t sound like you’ll be watching it anytime soon.

      So, Diana, you like Hugh Grant A LOT–I have to ask, which movie is your favorite? Or was it just the floppy hair and blue eyes?

      by Sara on August 10th, 2007 at 2:55 pm

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