My son Jimmy started singing as soon as he could vocalize, and he hasn’t stopped yet—thank goodness! He reminds me of my younger self, of the pure joy of letting go with an exuberant song, and of how words and music together can express emotions even better than words alone.
Ten years ago, I suffered through a terrible winter. Everything seemed dull and endless, dreary and gray. I was grieving the loss of my father, struggling through graduate school, trying to figure out what I could do with the rest of my life, and wondering whether I would ever be able to put my thoughts into words that adequately expressed what I felt.
When spring finally arrived, I saw green shoots poking up through the snow and felt the warmth of the sun. I heard birds chirping and felt like singing myself. Spring is more than my favorite season. It’s a whole new beginning, a fresh start. For me, the new year begins on March 4th, which I celebrate annually. March forth!
Nina Simone perfectly expressed that feeling of renewal in her moving version of “Another Spring,” written by Angelo Badalamenti and John Clifford:
“And then one morning
Another spring is there outside my door
Things are blooming
Birds are singing
And suddenly, yes, well I ain’t sad
Ain’t sad no more, ain’t sad no more
When it’s warm and the sun is out
It’s like my heart’s restored. . . .”
Of course I find inspiration in music. The refrain of a song I found in a hymnal expressed my feelings, too: "How Can I Keep from Singing?" by Robert Lowry.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
All those separate pieces (and more) came together in my head to become Sing-Along Song: that joyful spring, Jimmy’s exuberant singing, and the "How Can I Keep from Singing?" refrain. Other pieces fell into place, too. My sister Judy contributed the word “delish,” which she used to coax our kids to eat. Memories of my father coming home from a long day at work and my mother cheerfully cooking fit in, too.
One inspiration alone may not be enough to make a book. Ideas pile up, combine, and percolate until they achieve a momentum of their own. The evolution of a book can be mysterious even to the writer, who has only to trust in the process and keep going.
A Bird in the Hand
Do you keep a writing journal or notebook? Do you jot down ideas on scraps of paper and collect them in a file or drawer? Or do you list them in a document in a computer file? The sum of your random thoughts might be greater than the individual pieces.
Explore your idea collection. Choose two or three ideas that don’t obviously fit together. Try to find a way to connect them into one story. Be open to surprises. Trust the process. Have fun!
JoAnn Early Macken
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