Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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The Big Reveal! Staff Writer for a Day with WinSongs Music.

Recently, we invited Kirby Smith, Creative Director of WinSongs Music to the SongU virtual campus to get to know our writers. She listened to over 200 songs submitted throughout May and June and chose what she felt were the strongest of the bunch. That group of 22 songs became the list RISING STAR CONTENDERS. One final song rose to the top as the winner of “Staff Writer for the Day”. Congratulations to Kelly McKay with her brilliant song “Kiss the Hell Out of Me.” Kelly will be set up through WinSongs for a co-write session with hit songwriter, Sandy Ramos.

Because the primary goal of SongU is always to inform and educate, this week we had Kirby visit our e-classroom to find out about her work as a Creative Director (particularly in the time of Corona), as well as her listening process and what pros and cons factored into her choices for choosing the contenders, and finally to reveal her choice for Staff Writer for a Day! Thanks to Kirby for being so generous with her time, information and insights into the song selection and pitching process! Without further ado…

CONGRATULATIONS to the Top Contenders who all received the SongU “Rising Star Award”!

*Wes Bullock (4 songs)
*Elvira Cawthon (3 songs)
*Bill Gue (2 songs)
*Brenda Kornblum (2 songs)
*Brad McKinney
*David Nicastro (2 songs)
*Kenneth Riggins
*Becky Smith (2 songs)
*Dempsey Watson
*Rita Weyls

And to Kelly McKay (2 songs) from TN, SongU member since 2013, for winning the top spot of “Staff Writer for a Day” with WinSongs Music.

A round of applause to every one who submitted their songs to this challenge. As the maxim says, you can’t win the game if you’re sitting on the bench. Keep up the great work, everyone!


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Featured Coach: A Conversation with Michele Vice-Maslin

Today, I have the pleasure of talking with one of SongU’s long-time mentors and coaches, two-time Emmy Award winning songwriter and producer, Michele Vice-Maslin.

Michele Vice-Maslin

Michele, I’ve got to start by asking what’s helping you cope during this time of Corona?

Well I am a complete hermit so besides my lack of a hot tub to slip into I’m doing just fine and feel blessed! Also I really aspire to be a “Happy Girl” as one of my songs is called. That always helps one c ope, finding and holding on to their “happy”. A little “hippy dippy” I know but it’s true!

…But first off what helps me cope are my amazing Students at SongU and in my FROM SONG TO SYNC course! I am so busy coaching, mentoring, teaching, guiding, hand holding and seeing “light bulb moments” go off!… It is beyond rewarding and fulfilling!

I’ve actually never been busier so I think I am too tired to have to cope. LOL. In addition I’ve been writing with my favorite artist smooth jazz R&B legend Jonathan Butler for his new album and writing /producing songs for my own little pet artist project (2 of the songs appear on the Mpath PHENOMENAL WOMEN album series), plus other productions so I’m busy with that. I’m busy guiding my new intern Jeremiah. I’m busy pitching. I’m busy participating in tons of webinars mostly about all things music biz like Neighboring Rights, The MLC, Music Licensing, and so forth. I’ve been speaking on a bunch of webinars too… and so on and so on. All a great distraction from the difficult “mess” at hand that we all share.

And to top it off, as you and I discussed a little while back Sara…all the cooking. OH MY! Right now it’s after midnight I’ve been up working since 7am and I still have dinner to cook. Hahaha No time to think of coping

How has the current state of the world affected your writing, production, and pitching?

It hasn’t much affected the producing and pitching and solo writing. I am still doing that. Yes there are much less specific projects in production but still I always have backlogs of new songs that need to be pitched and brought to the attention of the “powers that be”. It has however very much affected the co-writing for me. I don’t like to collaborate virtually at all!  In fact I usually have a strict policy of “in the same physical room at the same time from complete scratch”. The only person I write virtually with is my main collaborator Larry Treadwell whom I’ve worked with for 39 years and know so well. I’ve also made an exception with Jonathan whom I’ve worked with for 20 years.  

Actually I’m always impressed by the Songu members I coach and their ability to co-write virtually even before the pandemic.

What qualities do you look for in a co-writer?

Of course if they are what I consider a good writer, which is subjective any way but after that mostly I look for someone I like, who is a nice human, a good human, an honest human. 

As a coach and mentor, you inspire so many songwriters. What inspires you?

The songwriters I coach and mentor! They inspire me everyday!  Some of them are soooo talented they could be teaching the class!  In the last 2 weeks alone I have heard some really amazing songs from them!  Life itself as well has always inspired me! Paying attention to all that is going on. Listening, watching, participating.

Do you have a favorite story you can tell us about one of your song placements? 

I have so so many but probably it’s my first one. That is what is coming to mind. It was 1987 and I was the songwriter, producer, arranger, creator of a “performance art project”. I had films and slide shows and actors doing skits accompanying the songs. The songs themselves and the whole project made Bjork look “normal”. 🙂 The whole thing was beyond alternative and avant-garde. I had a friend who was directing his first feature film TAPEHEADS. It stars Tim Robbins, John Cusack and the R&B/Soul legends Sam Moore (Of Sam & Dave) and Junior Walker (Of Junior Walker And The All Stars) Sam & Junior were playing the fictitious duo “The Swanky Modes” in the film. The director(my friend) asked me if I had any friends that created R&B/Soul music and if so could they submit some tunes for the film. So I grabbed my writing partner Larry, whom I previously mentioned, and we wrote and produced up (after much careful research and listening) a song to submit. Now remember I am a weird “Performance Artist”  who writes very odd songs, so what to do what to do… how to submit…? The director (who actually directed the films and slide shows in my performance art project) would never have considered any R&B/Soul song I might come up with so…I submitted it under a pseudonym… and voila!! In the movie. With the legendary Sam Moore and Jr. Walker recording it. My first cut and placement at the same time. In a major big budget film…and then haha I became knows as an R&B writer. Crazy stuff! I think the moral of that story is just go for it!!! Give it a try! Ya never know…

What music have you been listening to lately?

I listen to so much music. I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop as I am producing a really cool hip hop/rapper artist. Khalid, Kanye, Money Can’t Buy, A.J. Tracey, Troye Sivan, and others. Also a lot of pop music. Katy Perry, Halsey, Dua Lipa, Sean Mendez, Jonas Brothers, Charlie Puth, Kim Petrus, Tov Lo, Hayley Williams, Ellie Goulding… so so many and the songs of my friends, colleagues and students. Every day I listen to new music. I subscribe to some online newsletters that are always introducing me to new music.

Thank you, Michele, for offering professional advice and songwriting education to our SongU writers ! You rock!

Thank you for these really great questions Sara and thank you so much to you for having me. It’s really an honor. This is my 14th at Songu and it has enriched my life beyond measure. I’m so proud to be a part of the Songu family! I love my students!

I can’t believe it’s been 14 years already! Time flies when you’re having fun (and learning new things all the time). Thanks again for your time, Michele!

ABOUT COACHING AT SONGU.COM

In addition to our 20+ live audio/video small-group song feedback courses each month, our members have the opportunity to forge creative relationships with any of award-winning coaches in the form of individual written feedback with detailed song (or lyric-only) evaluations and constructive suggestions emphasizing lyrics, music/production, originality, commercial potential, and even a chance to be awarded “Best of SongU!”

HERE’S WHAT OUR MEMBERS ARE SAYING ABOUT COACH #2245 (aka Michele Vice-Maslin)!

“I am really thrilled with your Best of SongU recognition – you had awarded that for [my other song] ‘Marisol’ as well – and it means a lot. Both were probably more work than I would care to admit so it feels great to be recognized. I’m so happy that you liked it and found it relatable – THANKS!” -J.M., CT

“Thank you for the feedback. Once again you’ve opened my eyes through your insight. I definitely want to get away from cliche writing and hope to look get better at recognizing it when I write. Thx again!”D. Brown, GA

About Michele

About Michele: This coach is a two-time Emmy Award winning songwriter and producer who has written hit songs in multiple genres for artists all over the world, as well as having several thousand film/TV placements. This coach is also a music producer and music publisher who is well versed in song pitching and placing, and business issues pertaining to the music industry. Specializes in evaluating Pop, R&B, Hot AC, Top 40, Dance, Alternative, Urban, Country, Singer-Songwriter, Film/TV/Songs for Sync Licensing.

Michele’s Coaching Philosophy: “My coaching philosophy is one of empowerment and inspiration along with some real and straightforward honesty about what I believe is important in the way of crafting a great song – for personal satisfaction of course – but also for commercial success.”


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Why Should I Get Feedback Before Pitching My Songs to Film and TV?

At SongU.com, we offer a variety of of small group feedback sessions that focus on different aspects of songwriting and the music business. Writing songs for synchronization with film, TV, and other media takes unique skills beyond crafting a great song. For example, do your vocals and instrumentation work to the benefit of your production? Is your hook relatable for certain situations? Do you know the specifics of the sync licensing market in order to submit your songs appropriately to music supervisors?

Today we’re shining the spotlight on “FDBK 330 – Song Feedback for Film-TV-Media.” Join us to learn from the pros and your peers.

About: This 1-hour advanced feedback session is geared toward analysis of how your demo recording will compete in Film, TV, and other media-related pitches. Focus is given to your songs’ production as it pertains to pitching successfully for sync licensing opportunities in TV, Film, and Media. Limit 5 participants.

Our Facilitators: Nancy Peacock, CEO and Owner of Washington Street Publishing which focuses on securing placements in Film, TV, and Media; and Creative Director for Washington Street Publishing, Queenie Mullinex.

“Queenie and Nancy are soooo good. They are encouraging and yet candid when they hear things that need improvement. I learn a lot from their feedback on my song and the feedback that they give others. Always very, very helpful.” -Becca B. , SC

Always a joy to learn from them.” –Ricki B. , WI

“Great insight for tailoring your songs for music supervisor pitches.” Shawn F. , NJ


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Special Event Pitch: Staff Writer for a Day!

Between May 1st and June 30th 2020, SongU.com is running a special event: Staff Writer for a Day.  This is an opportunity to pitch your songs for a chance to see what it would be like to be a staff songwriter which includes getting set up by our guest publisher for a CO-WRITE SESSION with a hit songwriter! 

If you aren’t sure what the term Staff Writer means, you’re not aloneWhen I moved to Nashville in the early 1990’s and got serious about my songwriting, many of my peers were hoping to become a full-time paid songwriter for a music publishing company (aka a staff writer). The concept was so strange to me that I had to wonder if I ever had the chance to be a staff writer, would I even like it? At the time, I questioned whether I would really enjoy writing songs on demand, on a timetable, with a quota, being “set up” on blind co-writing dates, writing to make the creative director at my publishing company happy, and asking their permission to demo songs.

After about four years of engrossing myself in the Music Row experience of constant writing, re-writing, networking, co-writing, over-coming performance fears, sheepishly meeting with ASCAP reps and music publishers who would listen to my songs, and politely or not-so-politely tell me that I wasn’t quite “there” yet, I built a strong catalog of songs. By then, the idea of being a professional songwriter had grown on me. One day, miraculously, I was hired by a little music publishing company called Zamalama Music as their first staff writer (cue the Rocky theme song).

It turned out that this job gave me valuable lessons in how to prepare myself mentally every morning to “show up and write” whether I was feeling creative or not. I made sure to arrive at those blind date co-writes with lots of potential titles and ideas to jump start our meetings. I learned to leave my ego at the door and do what was best for the song. Most importantly, I found an inner confidence that only comes when your songs have been rejected so many times, you can laugh and moooove on! Here’s a picture of the bay window of the Zamalama writers room on Music Row where I eventually co-penned a hit song!

Check out the staff writer experience for yourself:

A SPECIAL EVENT PITCH – STAFF WRITER FOR A DAY! This is your opportunity to be selected by Kirby Smith, Creative Director of WinSongs Music Publishing, for a chance to find out what it’s like to be a professional staff songwriter for a day, including a meeting with Kirby and a CO-WRITING SESSION with hit songwriter, Sandy Ramos! Read about our guests.

For details about how to submit your songs between May 1st – June 30th 2020 for a chance to win STAFF WRITER FOR A DAY! Go to the Pitching area of SongU.com.

2000 ASCAP Awards. Connie Bradley, Kacey Jones, Sharon Lane, me, 


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Pitching in the Time of Corona: A Dispatch From our Publishers

With all the transitions and changes going on these days, I asked the music publishers and song pluggers we work with regularly to give us an update on pitching in the time of Corona. Here’s what they said:

“Still pitching strong and I think our decision makers are more at their computers listening to songs than perhaps ever before.”

Jeffrey Nelson, Song Plugger

“Song pitching continues uninterrupted…The dynamics of pitching have, of course, changed recently in that social distancing has made in person pitch meetings, at least for the moment, not possible. I do however, continue to maintain communication with industry decision makers and continue to pitch them songs via links and mp3’s, much of which I already did anyway.”

Additionally worth noting, “This is the time of the year that acts who are going to record Christmas records are beginning to look for songs.”

Dallas Gregory, Publisher, Song Rocket Music

“There will be no personal one-on-one meetings but the selected songs will be sent to my contacts and they will be considered. Recording dates etc have been altered and moved to unspecified dates due to the coronavirus. Keep writing great songs and keep the faith.”

Bob Dellaposta, Publisher, My 3 Kids Music

“There has been a definite halt in some of the film / TV show productions. The music supervisors are emailing and saying that we have a couple weeks to send in songs rather than 24-48 hours. But there are lots of TV shows already in post production so we are continuing to get requests for songs. The ad agencies work a long time on a client’s branding so we are getting requests for those also.”

Nancy Peacock, Licensing Agent, Washington Street Music Publishing

Thanks to all these sincerely dedicated music professionals for keeping our songs out there and getting us placements and cuts!


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Your Kind Words are Music to Our Ears!

“Hello, This is a VERY competitive business as you know but it is encouraging to know that a song I wrote “Southern Life” is a ” Maybe” to get pitched for a major artist! Thank you SongU Team!! I know you are busy but wanted to let you know that I have several people pitching my Songs and YOU are by far the most Professional, Kind, efficient group that ALWAYS responds and clearly has a CRAZY work ethic! You know as well as I do that that is what inevitably leads to success! I LOVE IT!”

–Roger Brantley (LA) on 3/13/20

“I was a first time user of the e-classroom and enjoyed being able to participate in the course.”

— Alina V. (FL) on 3/18/20
For Diona DeVincenzi, FDBK 225-Indie, Film-TV, Production Feedback

“Many thanks for filling in, Sara, and also for the great feedback. Listened to the full transcript today and enjoyed it. Nice to see more Scots in Songu. I hope Lisa is OK.”

–Alex H. (Scotland) on 3/20/20
For Sara Light, FDBK 210-Song Feedback

“I’m enjoying getting ideas, feedback and inspiration as with the virus escalating now my co writers and I can’t meet to work on our new stuff so online is definitely a way forward and I’ve had some good food for thought from the coaching reviews and the two on line classes I’ve attended on the songs particularly the ones that need some work. I’ll look forward to another class soon. Kindest regards and stay safe.”

–Jane H. (U.K.) on 3/23/20

“Bob always brings his ‘A’ game. He has a very honest and passionate approach to helping. You can really tell he loves what he does. Even if I don’t agree with him on every point. I can still understand where he is coming from.”

–Shawn F. (NJ) on 3/25/20
For Bob Dellaposta, FDBK 315 Publisher Song Feedback

“Marcia has been one of my “go-tos” for a long time now. Really appreciate her take. I count her as a friend besides. Benn is always there to keep us straight. Sara, Danny, and Martin, the whole SongU community is an avid, major part of my writing track. Thanks so very much guys!!”

–Brad Y. (NY) on 3/26/20
For Marcia Ramirez, FDBK 140 Song Feedback

“Always awesome!”

–Ricki B. (WI) on 3/27/20
Nancy Peacock & Queenie Mullinex, FDBK 330 Sync Licensing Production Feedback

“I wanted to share with you a copy of the note I recently sent to the UK Songwriting Contest: A big ‘thank you’ to the UKSC for the wonderful prize of a free trial membership to songu.com. Not only have I learned A LOT by participating in a variety of their online courses and seminars, but I have taken advantage of their pitching opportunities as well… and good news!… one of my songs was recently picked up by a publisher! Needless to say, I’m thrilled!”

–Elizabeth Roberts (U.K.) on 3/28/20


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Dear SongU, Can We Talk About Pitch Submission Deadlines?

I’d like to share a SongU member inquiry that recently landed in my inbox: “Dear Songu, can we talk about extensions for deadlines on pitch submissions on songu? How do they occur? What kind of relationships do you have, that ever cause to allow this? What actually happens? Thank you kindly.” – J. (Vancouver, B.C. Canada)

Dear J.,

What a great question! Let me explain the process we use at SongU.com. To get the leads and submission deadlines for our Street Pitches, I communicate directly with several song pluggers, music publishers and licensing agents that are out there “on the street” making appointments with the artists, record labels, and such to find out who is looking for songs, what kinds of songs they want or need, and when they will be in the studio recording.

After you’ve been working in the industry for a while, you learn that most artists search for songs over a period of time from a couple of months to even a year or more. It is often a moving target as the artists  find songs they like, target songs they hope to find to fill out the album, or “change direction” from what they thought they originally wanted.

Based on the information our pitch guests relay to me each month, I post the Street pitch leads and submission deadlines. Then, a few days before the deadlines (which generally fall either mid-month or end of month), I send out an email asking if they want to extend any listings or send new ones. Here is an example of an email I received this week:

Good Morning Sara!

Sorry I’m just getting back to you.  Let’s keep Mark Wills and Chris Golden active through the end of May if that’s o.k. as they continue to be very engaged in receiving and listening to songs.  We can pull Hannah Dasher on the 15th, but I may re-list Hannah in a few weeks IF she is still looking for songs.  They’re assessing what they have at this time.  I’ll get with you later today with fresh pitch opps.

Have a wonderful day 🙂

DG

Thanks for taking the time to check in with us and find out more. I hope this explanation helps clarify.

Best wishes,
Sara
————————————————————————-
Sara Light, Co-Founder & President
Successes
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“Wherever you are, we bring the music industry to YOU”


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March into Metaphors

“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”  marchI actually remember the first time I heard this saying in Mrs. Harris’ third grade class. When she asked us to tell her what we thought it meant, my hand shot up.  It describes the weather perfectly in New Jersey where I grew up!  From that moment on, I was hooked on the wonder of metaphoric language. Metaphor – a  comparison of two disparate objects to suggest a similarity (e.g. “I am a rock, I am an island” Simon & Garfunkle);  and simile – a comparison using “like” or “as” (e.g. “I feel like a stone that’s been picked up and thrown to the hard rock bottom of your heart.” Shout out to songwriter Hugh Prestwood!).

Why do we use metaphor and simile all the time both in everyday speech and, of course, in song lyrics? The use of this kind of comparison enhances our sensory connection to the subject. And why is that so awesome? When our senses are heightened, our emotional connection is heightened as well. As songwriters, it’s our job to write lyrics that draw in our listeners emotionally. We want them to FEEL love, heartache, joy, or surprise when they hear our song. The music works on one level, the lyric on another.

Just for fun, since we’re in the month of March, what are some song lyrics that use ANIMALS in a metaphoric way? Use the comments area for your solutions, or join the Facebook discussion in  SongUNews .


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Writing About Current Events From a Different Perspective

“With history piling up so fast, almost every day is the anniversary of something awful.” – Writer & Artist, Joe Brainard

Recently, while cleaning out my closet, I happened upon a small book of Daily Meditations given to me by a friend a long time ago called The Promise of a New Day (copyright 1983). The book goes through each day of the year and offers a quote and a short spiritual reflection.  I hadn’t opened this book in well over a decade, but last week I found myself turning to the February 7th meditation which begins with the quote at the top of this page. 

At first I was surprised to read this quote from the 1980’s that felt so relevant for today’s world. But then I realized that in every decade, at every point in history change is inevitable, and with change comes discomfort, fear, anger, and as the quote says, “the anniversary of something awful.” Joe Brainard died in 1994 of AIDS. Can we take a moment of pause to reflect on how incredibly scary and sad that time in our history was until, thank goodness, we found a treatment for HIV?  Our amazing scientific and medical community created an antidote to something horrific.

Obviously, as writers and artists, we have a responsibility to reflect the trouble in the world around us as songwriters like Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan did in the 1960’s. But can’t we also create an antidote to the daily assault of awful news? If history is comprised of times of trouble, war, disease, hunger, and hate, isn’t it just as important to highlight the love, compassion, simple moments of trust, help, hope, and success?

As a songwriting exercise, try making a list of the little things that have kept you motivated, inspired, happy, or brought you peace of mind, during these difficult times. Kissing your loved one good night, scratching your dog’s tummy, taking a walk near a stream, sipping on a hot cup of coffee, holding open a door for a stranger and exchanging a smile. Keep a section in your “title book” or idea journal specifically for a daily dose of positivity. See if you can practice a heightened awareness for the the good things that we often take for granted like a compliment from a friend, being in the fast line at the grocery store, having enough gas in your car, birds chirping when you open your door, or a warm coat when it’s cold outside. Write it all down.  These specifics will inform your lyric with a universal theme of gratitude and  provide a different perspective on our current events. Bring this perspective into your next song.

 


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Finding Time to Write

“Who will free me from hurry, flurry, the feeling of a crowd pushing behind me, of being hustled and crushed? How can I regain even for a minute the feeling of ample leisure I had during my early, my creative years? Then I seldom felt fussed, or hurried. There was time for work, for play, for love, the confidence that if a task was not done at the appointed time, I easily could fit it into another hour. I used to take leisure for granted, as I did time itself.” 

— Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight, from the Diaries of 1947-1958

I am finding that the older I get, the more difficult it is to feel unencumbered. I do not have the same sense I did in my 20’s and 30’s of having the time or energy to follow my muse, explore my own interests, or even rest my mind.  The tasks that I commit to now, even the ones I voluntarily choose, come with a sense of heaviness;  How will I fit that in to my schedule? What do I prioritize today? If I do THIS, it’ll take away from THAT.

I’m beginning 2018 pretty well. I’m back to starting most days with a yoga video and green tea BEFORE I check my schedule, answer my emails and walk my dog. I’m even on a streak with my Headspace meditation app and I’m finally able to turn off my brain at night and get some deep sleep. And, check this out, I’m writing a blog entry (an activity that I enjoy, but usually fits into the “how will I fit that into my schedule today?” category).

Some of the lessons I find that are working for me this year that I haven’t tried in the past are:

  • Doing a little bit consistently can be as satisfying as going “all in”.  This is a good one for songwriters. If you only have a couple of minutes to work on a song today, do that. Don’t wait until you have half a day to devote to writing a whole new song. If you think one new title today call that your day’s work and let yourself feel accomplished.
  • Good is good enough.  Perfection isn’t a mandatory requirement. Just get the job done the best you can in the time you have and move on. Don’t berate yourself for not doing something exactly the way you imagined.  This frees up a lot of time.
  • Deadlines are often flexible.  I have been noticing that a lot of the people around me also feel crunched for time. Because of that, they often are more than happy to move around appointments and extend deadlines. They, too, have a million other things they can fit into that slot.  Flexibility reduces stress.
  • Take a break from social media. Yikes, lately, I have been seeing so many articles about the addictive (aka drug-like) qualities of those pings and likes and notifications. It wasn’t a coincidence that on my birthday this year, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the sweet notes and well-wishes throughout the day on Facebook, I also left my notebook with my favorite recipes on a shelf in the grocery store (never to be recovered), threw my dog’s leash out with the trash and generally walked around with fog-brain as if I were hung-over.  This week, I resisted the urge to post a cute picture of my daughter hugging our dog in the unusually snowy day in Nashville. That meant that I also missed seeing all the  photos of my friends’ kids. But the payoff was additional time and FOCUS.
  • “The only way past it, is through it.”   This is my new mantra every time my procrastination instinct kicks in. I got this one from an interview by Gretchen Rubin of writer Greer Hendricks .

Wishing you all contentment and time to explore your muse in the new year!