The speed of sound in lyrics

IMG_1816So. Sam Smith has written the theme song to the new James Bond film, Spectre. A Guardian article about the piece includes his claim that he wrote the lyrics in about 20 minutes.

That’s not long. So what are we to understand by that claim? I have a few options.

First, it is a boast as to the supreme efficiency of his muse, that a splendid song comes ‘just like that’. (Not that I know it is splendid, the splendour comes as part of the claim.) Mr Smith was inspired and, like Coleridge waking from his dream to write Kublai Khan, dashed down the lyrics as fast as the muse dictated.

Secondly, it could mean the lyrics are unimportant bosh which Mr Smith bodged together on the back of an envelope when he needed something to go with the tune (rumty, tumty something love, rumty, tumty blah blah glove).

Thirdly, it could be that, as someone who primarily writes poetry, I don’t understand the song writing process, and maybe twenty minutes is a really long time to spend on lyrics.

I’m not sure I’m competent to judge on which of those is true, but I tend towards the first, as I don’t think he is implying ‘I just put any old crap down on the page’.

In the end, speed of composition should be an irrelevance to appreciating the work; of no more value than knowing a favourite author wrote in green ink (Paulo Neruda), or on recycled envelopes (Dickinson), or naked (allegedly Victor Hugo), or standing up (Kierkegaard, Woolf). Our desire to know that, and all the other features are part of the cargo cult of creativity: if I do it how she did then I can get the same results. And that really is bosh.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to write (Scrivener, standing up and clothed). So far it’s taken about 400 hours. Unfortunately, that is no guarantee of its quality.

The second draft

Plaster cast of my teeth before dental work (c.1972)
Plaster cast of my teeth before dental work (c.1972)

So. I haven’t posted recently, partly because I have been on holiday (very nice, thank you for asking) but mainly because I have been working on the second draft of a non-fiction book.

It turns out the revision process is much like going to the dentist. I don’t enjoy it, but I know I have to do it, and in the end it will be good for me, or, in this case, good for the book. The physical manifestations of the revision process are sighing, swearing, occasional shouting and a fair bit of pacing (I write standing up most of the time, so the pacing isn’t too difficult). Also, when things feel too difficult, there is a regrettable turning away to other tasks: like this one. (I also have a pan of soup simmering, which needs a regular tweak.)

The editor of the book (and I put it that way because ‘my editor’ sounds excessively proprietorial) is thorough and professional. Which means all my inadvertent and advertent vaguenesses get pointed out. At times my unreasonable response to a reasonable comment (such as ‘needs more detail’) is a howl of ‘But I don’t know any more’.

But, in the same way that wearing a brace will give you a lovely smile, working over an editor’s comments will produce a better book.