My friend Gary Nicholson says he rarely gets writer’s block.
To him, it’s like a water tap.
If you turn it on every day, the tap works easily.
The water comes out clear.
Let it go a while — say, a couple of months,
Rust sets in and the water runs brown.
It takes a while before it runs clean.
Make something every day.
Turn the water on.
There’s a confidence that comes
From believing that when you turn that handle,
Something good is going to happen.
From “The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living)
Available in print, ebook and audiobook at
Text and Photo © 2108 Darden Smith



There’s no substitute for cash.

But over the course of my work I’m paid in lifestyle as much as anything.
Being able to spend my years doing what I love
And experiencing all I see out traveling —
These are luxuries never to be taken lightly.

Yes, there are rough times.
I don’t have the stability (and bank accounts)
That some of my friends have — the ones with regular jobs.
My children grow up without the proverbial big-screen TV
But I don’t think they’re unduly scarred.
It’s a sacrifice worth making.

And I would do it again.

From “The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living)” on Irie Books
Text and Image © 2018 Darden Smith



As a kid, I like to draw pictures.
But being left-handed, stuck in those damned right-handed desks at school,
I have a hard time making drawings that aren’t lopsided and weird.
The other kids, being kids, tease me about the bizarre scrawls on my paper.
So at the bitter age of 10, I figure out how to make the teasing stop:
I quit drawing.

I make up a story,
And the story is, “I can’t draw.”

In 1989, I’m in L.A. recording what will become Trouble No More.
Sitting in the studio, bored, scratching on a newspaper with a pencil,
I accidentally draw a tree.
Immediately, I cover the drawing up, afraid someone will see it.
A few seconds later, I move my hand. It’s still there.
Suddenly I’m 9, sitting in the back of the class,
Lost in the land of crayons and construction paper.
It feels good. I start to teach myself to draw again.

Now when I travel, I fill notebooks with weird little black-and-white pictures.
There’s not a straight line to be found, and it doesn’t matter.
I don’t make these images to show people.
I don’t need a gallery wall for proof they’re valid.
The doing of it is all that matters now.

Sometimes I think about all those years I spend believing that story
I tell myself when I’m 10: the story of no.

Because I listen back then, I miss out on a lot of joy,
A lot of time dragging ink across a page.

Don’t listen to the teasers.
Draw the pictures.



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.



Paul Williams is sitting next to me at a dinner in LA.
His stories are hilarious.
He tells me how much fun he’s having of late,
That after not writing songs for many years
He’s only recently getting back into it.

I say, “Well, we should get together and write something.”
He turns to me and says, “Really? What are you doing tomorrow?”

So here I am, spending an afternoon
Writing with Mr. Paul Williams,
And though our song is awful, completely forgettable,
The day is amazing.

As we work, he talks about his early days in Los Angeles, writing for everyone
From Three Dog Night and the Carpenters to the Osmonds,
Being on movie sets with Barbara Streisand,
The alcohol and drugs, the entire years lost and
How he eventually flames out,
Only to get sober and
Devote his time to helping others do the same.

“And now,” he says, “I’m writing again. I’m so lucky.”

At one point, while we’re in the middle of figuring out the bridge, Paul jumps up and says, “God, I love writing songs. Don’t you?”

I leave the session with something better than a song.
Paul Williams gives me a master class on life,
A map of where I want to wind up.
He doesn’t really teach me anything about songwriting
But he shows me what it’s like
To be truly excited
About the process.
How to disconnect,
Re-engage, and ignite again
After watching it all
Fall away.


Summer, 1994

I’m the opening act on Stevie Nick’s summer tour.
For the three months that we cross the country
I know that a two-year odyssey
Recording, travel, promotion and shows
Is coming to a close
And I’m worried.
I don’t have songs for a new record.
Not sure if I have anything to say.

Backstage at some amphitheater out west,
Maybe in San Francisco, or San Jose,
The drummer in Stevie’s band, Russ Kunkel,
Tells me I should go on an adventure,
Drive across the country,
Do anything to shake the trees.

What he’s saying is I need to
Get out of my mind.
See something new.
Go find the songs.

Shortly after that tour I go completely off the rails
With a divorce-money-career collapse
And I start to question who I am
As a man, a father, an artist.
But instead of running from the chaos, I dive down into it.
Writing, always writing.
And from those upside-down days
I find a whole new bag of songs,
A new vein to explore.

Over the next few years
I come to see that
The real adventure is inside the walls of my own house,
My own soul.
I stop hiding in my songs,
And start telling the truth.

Russ is right.
Sometimes we need to take an adventure,
Blow the carbon off the spark plugs,
Trick ourselves into seeing what’s really there.





As a 17 year old, wannabe songwriter in Houston, TX in the late ’70’s who had possession of a pretty good fake ID, getting into clubs was not only easy, it was the coolest game in town, and somewhat of a responsibility that one had to rise up and fulfill.

I was at Rockefeller’s one night seeing Michael Murphy and his band, trying to figure out how to write something like ‘Geronimo’s Cadillac,’ and hoping that no one noticed my beer.

In the middle of his set he called a friend of his up on the stage, saying that he was one of the real songwriters, one of the legends. It was Sonny Throckmartin.

I don’t remember the songs that Sonny played that night, but I remembered his name. As I got older, I kept noticing that it popped up next to a lot of really great country songs.
“The Cowboy Rides Away”
“If We’re Not Back In Love By Monday”
“Why Not Me”
“The Way I Am”
“Friday Night Blues”
“Last Cheater’s Waltz”

See what I mean?

When I saw Sonny last night, I told him about seeing him play that night in Houston. He remembered the show.

But he had no recollection of the underage kid standing on the side of the stage trying to drink beer and take notes at the same time.



I strongly condemn any ‘white supremacy’ movement.
Anytime. Anywhere.

I don’t believe in white supremacy.
I don’t believe in the superiority of any race, for that matter.
Lately, I’m not even sure I believe in the supremacy of humans, looking at the way we’ve done our best to screw things up.

I also don’t believe that the ‘white’ race (whatever that is) in this country is being held back or cheated in any way. If anything, it seems to get the majority of the good breaks.

I’m an Anglo male, born in the early 60’s, with a mostly German heritage. There’s a bit of English, Scots/Irish (probably), and maybe some Native American blood as well.
Basically, I’m a mutt. An immigrant.

Any prejudice that touched my life generally worked out in my favor. My family was never refused service in a restaurant. I grew up thinking I could have any job I wanted. I got away with things as a young man that others would’ve been thrown in jail for doing. Any harm that came my way was usually self-inflicted, and never because of the color of my skin. If there was a time when I didn’t get into a school, or any work situation, it was because of my own lack of talent or preparation. Most of the time I just didn’t work hard enough.

I’ve never been denied access because of an ethnic box I checked on a form.

I believe in God, but I’m not certain that one religion speaks to a greater truth than others.

I do believe that God speaks of the supremacy of love, and that there is no higher act than to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I believe this is a foundation of granite. Steel.
It is the bedrock of all good things.

“Hate might win a battle, boys
Love will win the war”