September 01


When I was a Songwriter by Kate Milford

I’ve wanted to be a writer forever. In elementary school, I wrote chapters of a mystery pitting my pet rabbits against the villainous neighborhood dog that kept getting into our backyard. But in middle school, I had a new dream: I was going to be a songwriter. Specifically, I was going to write for the boy band my friends and I were all obsessed with, The New Kids on the Block.


I wish I could say I was driven by the musical soul I didn’t realize I possessed until sixth grade or that I suddenly discovered the storytelling potential of songs or something. But no. I couldn’t read or play music, and for some reason it didn’t even occur to me that if I wanted to write songs I should probably learn how. Or maybe it did, but since Jordan Knight, my preferred New Kid, was credited as a writer on some of their songs, I figured once he read my stirring and brilliant lyrics, he’d hear the unwritten melodies in his head and simply have to set my work to music. (Thus would begin one of the great love stories of all time.) So it was kind of better if I didn’t know how to write music. Otherwise what would be left for Jordan to do? I mean, other than sing. Possibly with me. If I wrote the really good ones as duets.


Last time I visited my folks I tried to open the filing cabinet in the basement that still has a drawer labeled Katie’s Files in what is undeniably the handwriting of a poet. I thought maybe I’d include a few of those verses here to underscore the idea that sometimes it takes three years you’ll never get back to learn what kind of writer you’re not.


The drawer was locked. I guess I should admit I didn’t try very hard to get it open.


Kate Milford is the author of The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands, The Kairos Mechanism, Bluecrowne, and Greenglass House, which was long-listed for the National Book Award. Originally from Annapolis, Maryland, Kate now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.