My first wife and I get engaged when I’m 22
And her father sends me the letter.
He’s very concerned about my career choice
And wonders if I would consider a trade school;
Something to fall back on.

After I calm down, I write him a letter.
I tell him that my father always told me to never have a Plan B.
If you have it, you’ll use it.

I also say that when I get to be 30, if there’s absolutely zero chance
Of making a living at music,
Then I’ll think about some other line of work.
But until then, no.

The marriage doesn’t work out,
But the plan does.

(By the way, I grew to love this guy, and he became a big fan. Word has it that when I got my first press in Chicago, he carried a copy of the story around to show his friends.)



In high school, I have an odd-jobs business
Mowing lawns, painting houses, moving families.
I do landscaping, build patios and decks, even clean windows
For the right price.

Basically, I’ll do anything.
My method is, first get the job,
Then figure out how to do it.
There’s a network of construction guys I can go to
For a quick lesson on whatever I’ve gotten myself into.
They get a kick out of my
Will-do-even-though-I-don’t-know-how-to attitude.

One time, I get a contract to pour a driveway.
(Who hires a bunch of 17-year-old kids to pour concrete?)
I go see Larry, my friend Mark’s dad.
He’s a contractor, and one of the biggest, meanest dudes I know.
Larry shakes his head; he can’t believe I’m going to try a driveway
But he lights up a cigarette and tells me how to do it anyway.

It works. The driveway gets done, and it looks pretty good.
Larry stops by during the day, and saves my ass at a key moment.
If he hadn’t, I’d be breaking concrete for a week.
I get paid, though wind up not making much
Because I severely underestimate the time and materials needed for the job.
But do I pour the driveway? Yes.

Put that in the same column as
Writing a symphony,
Scoring contemporary dance works,
Sitting down with Bloods and Crips to write a song,
Writing a book.
Just because I don’t know what I’m doing when I start
Doesn’t mean that I don’t make it happen.
I just need help.

Be willing to fail and you just might win.
We’re capable of doing, of being, many things if we just say yes.
Be brave enough (or dumb enough) to try.
If you just get going, and keep your eyes open,
You’ll find the help you need.

But unless you know what you’re doing,
Stay away from concrete work
Or get yourself a Larry.


Austin, TX – Songwriting Workshop

6 String Ranch and Austin Vintage Guitars Present:

Beyond the Basics — One-Day Songwriting Workshop with Darden Smith
June 23, 2018
Austin, Texas

This tworkshop covers a lot of ground, looking at the basics of the craft, as well as the possibilities of where each participant can go with their songs. I combine nuts-and-bolts lessons learned from my years of writing with the tools for putting inspiration into practice. You’ll leave with a new appreciation of your strengths and talents, concrete ways to improve as a writer.

Saturday morning — The basics: A look at verse/chorus/bridge structure, rhyme scheme, the value of a good hook, economy of words, melody, starting the song from scratch, the rewrite, dealing with writer’s block, etc.

Saturday afternoon — Look a little deeper: What story do I need to tell? Am I telling the truth? How do I get to the heart of the song?

Price — $300

Sign up here.

Crowcombe, UK – Songwriting Workshop w/ Boo Hewerdine

It’s that time again.
Each year Boo Hewerdine and I get together and spend time working with participants to hone their song skills.
This one is at Halsway Manor, in Somerset.

Topics covered include:
Structure — Verse / Chorus / Bridge
Clarity in lyric
The importance of meter and rhyme scheme
The power of telling the truth in lyric using simple language
Writing from your life — The importance of telling your story
Creating writing projects for yourself
The habits of a successful writing life
Recognizing and building on your strengths as a writer

Boo and Darden take time during the week to sit one-on-one with each participant, helping to identify goals and create a path to success for their writing. That will look different for each student. To some it might be a roadmap to recording an album, or steps to doing more shows, making it a career. Others want to re-waken their creative energies, make a life more based around music. For many, it’s simply to become a better writer, to finish more songs.

At the end of the week, each participant records at least one song on-site with a professional engineer. The highlight of final evening is a listening party of songs written during the week.

Through a week of collaboration, group meals, evenings spent passing around songs, a sense of community is created. Many past participants keep working together long after the workshop has ended, writing songs and singing on each other’s projects.

For pricing and reservations, contact