"I love this book! It's thoughtful, kind, empowering and smart. I wish it had been around when I was starting out. I definitely recommend it to any writer!"
- Karen
Writer of the Year,

Your First Cut's chapters are organized based on the questions in the questionnaire. Each chapter provides you with the knowledge and the tools you need to increase your score on the questionnaire, bringing you closer to your first cut. Below are two sample chapters.


      “Everyday when I wake up I think of this business as a board game and I want to move my piece further along.”
      - Sherrill Blackman, Publisher and Song Plugger

This may actually be the most important goal for you to accomplish. And it’s one that should stay with you throughout your career. It is your way of maintaining focus 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Think of it as a “One-A-Day” vitamin. When you take your vitamin each day, it does what you want it to do. It puts nutrients in your body, makes you a little more resistant to disease and, more importantly, keeps your attention on your good health. When you forget to take your vitamin, not only does your body not receive those benefits, but you are also not focused on your goal.

So it is also with maintaining a discipline to be active in your goal of getting your first cut. You don’t have to have a huge monumental goal every day. If your “vitamin” is to call EMI Publishing and demand a publishing deal on the spot, your rejection factor may skyrocket, causing a setback. The wound that will be inflicted on you will be so deep, that you’re going to have to take more “One-A-Days” just to stop the bleeding. And that’s not the kind of first cut we’re talking about! That goal is too big.

We’re talking about simple, small, easy approaches to keep your thought processes moving in the right direction. Call a co-writer and make an appointment. Get out a Tim McGraw CD (“Everywhere” is a good choice - Jerry will get 1.2 cents for it), and listen to each song. Think about why Tim would want to cut that song. Go to the library and read the latest issue of Billboard Magazine. Go to a movie to get a song idea. Gather together all the little slips of songwriting ideas scratched on Brown’s Diner napkins sitting on your desk, and type them in your computer. Restring your guitar. You get the picture. Small tasks, or as Julia Cameron (author of “The Artist’s Way”) would say, “small do-able tasks”.

Discipline is key here. If you don’t take your vitamins, they don’t work. If you do, they will. It’s that simple. Eventually, you should find yourself maintaining a steady thought process that will inevitably factor in to your becoming a better writer, which will get you that cut.


In order to move closer to getting my first cut, I will do at least one thing each day, no matter how large or small, to further my songwriting career.


According to Pavlov, it takes 21 days to form a habit (if, of course, you do it 21 days in a row). Salivating when a bell goes off isn’t exactly what we have in mind here, but stay with us for a minute.


List 21 actions you can take (like the examples earlier) toward furthering your songwriting goals that you can refer to later when you can’t think of what to do that day. Be creative. They don’t have to be in any particular order. Also, don’t forget that the key word is "small". You can’t do this wrong unless you make the goal too astronomical. Don’t spend a lot of time. Brainstorm.

1. _____________________________________
2. _____________________________________
3. _____________________________________
4. _____________________________________
5. _____________________________________
6. _____________________________________
7. _____________________________________
8. _____________________________________
9. _____________________________________
10. _____________________________________
11. _____________________________________
12. _____________________________________
13. _____________________________________
14. _____________________________________
15. _____________________________________
16. _____________________________________
17. _____________________________________
18. _____________________________________
19. _____________________________________
20. _____________________________________
21. _____________________________________


Looking at your brainstorm list, plan the actions you’ll take for the upcoming week. Then, so that you’ll be able to look back and acknowledge your progress, at the end of each day this week, list and record what action you took each day.

Sunday: _____________________________________
Monday: _____________________________________
Tuesday: _____________________________________
Wednesday: _____________________________________
Thursday: _____________________________________
Friday: _____________________________________
Saturday: _____________________________________


Copy the above form and place it where you’ll see it every day. Put it on the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, your computer screen, or the back of your front door. Fill it in each night before you go to sleep and dream of your acceptance speech for your #1 party. Add two points if you also flossed your teeth. (No, no, just kidding).

Every day, really, really, REALLY do this. It’s too easy not to, but it truly works. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Remember that pyramid we talked about in “How To Use This Book?” Congratulations! You just completed level one! Good job. Don’t stop now. Keep climbing.

JV: This is probably my toughest discipline. Sometimes I don’t want to think about songwriting. I just want to change the oil in my car. If I took my “vitamins” every day, maybe I’d have a nicer car, and I’d be paying someone else to change my oil. I have definitely found, however, that when I take action, large or small, everyday, even Sundays, I get results. This little system works better than you think. Give it a try.

GH: I keep a weekly chart on the bulletin board next to my desk at home. The chart has 8 columns. The first column lists things I want to do on a consistent basis such as songwriting, pitching, vocalizing, practicing guitar, etc. (There are also non music-related tasks such as meditation, sit-ups, etc.) Then there are columns for each day of the week. Whenever I complete something on the chart, I draw a star in the box for that day. I only focus on how much I accomplish every week and then pat myself on the back. (If I don’t then who will?) It’s amazing how far a little positive reinforcement can carry me.

And for extra support, I have one of my favorite quotes at the top of the page. It’s by biographer W.H. Murray: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth – the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no person could have dreamed would have come their way.”

* * * * *

From Wood Newton

“Actually my first major label recording was on my own album on Elektra/Asylum records in 1979. There were two songs on it that I co-wrote, ‘Julie, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?’ and ‘Love The Hurt Away.’

“My first ‘outside’ cut was a song I wrote with Tim Dubois called ‘Midnight Hauler.’ It was recorded by Razzy Bailey and was also my first single. It went to #1 in 1980. Tim and I had heard about a sci-fi movie entitled ‘UFOria’ that needed a truck driving song in it, so we sat down and completed ‘Midnight Hauler’ with that project in mind. The movie never got made, but Razzy’s hit allowed me to put a down payment on my first home.”

- Wood Newton,
BMI award-winning songwriter with a slew of number ones including “Bobby Sue” by the Oak Ridge Boys, “Twenty Years Ago” by Kenny Rogers, “What I Didn’t Do” by Steve Wariner and, most recently, “Riding With Private Malone” by David Ball

* * * * *

Wood’s advice to songwriters:

“If you do it just for the love of it, a great song will finally rise. Hopefully in your lifetime.”

© Copyright 2002, Jerry Vandiver and Gracie Hollombe. All Rights Reserved.