Shelley Nelms blog

Extras: Take This Dream

For the "Other Loves" Extras series, we've asked some Headland writers about what they love to do other than writing, and how their interests feed into their writing. Shelley Marie Nelms, author of "The Drop-In" here reflects on her relationship with songwriting.


Like many, many previous nights, last night I played ten years of songs I’ve written in my head as I tried to fall asleep, laughing to myself, I could make an album, call it “Decade.” That’s how long it’s been. And that’s just when I really started counting. Over the course of three insomniac hours, I wrote new lyrics, changed old ones. Lamented abandoned melodies. Fell in love all over again with eight-year-old songs that only live in my phone, as always, thinking, I wish people could hear these. What if people heard these?

I’ve done some things with music, I justified to myself.

After filling notebooks with years of lyrics, I taught myself to play guitar. A white and turquoise acoustic I named Lola. I was fourteen. Rushing to the songs I most wanted to learn, I overlooked basic semantics, developing bad habits and a dislike for picks. Refusing to practice with a metronome.

I was desperate for the words and melodies in my head to live. No matter the cost. 

I competed in a songwriting competition at the infamous Atlanta music venue Eddie’s Attic and lost. It was my second time playing on a stage. One of the two times I ever did. I feared two things: not being drunk enough, and not knowing how to plug up my guitar.

Two years later, I recorded a song in a studio in Nowhere, Oklahoma, hoping to release it, which I didn’t, due to the low quality.

I self-recorded a music video for that same song over the course of a three-week road trip from Georgia to San Diego, and my husband and I painstakingly edited it over the course of six months. It got about 500 views and fizzled into the internet void.

And in between, life happened with its intricacies and distractions. I ignored my guitar often, always coming back to it when I was heartbroken. Songwriting my most immediate analgesic.

I’ve spent years telling myself I’m a songwriter, and years begging myself to give it up. I even wrote a song about it, ha, called “Take This Dream.”

Love and pain are so closely related. This is something I’ve explored in countless songs, stories, poems, and it is also true regarding my relationship with songwriting. It is almost painful to think about. Because of how important it is. I haven’t played on a stage in seven years, but I did write a new song last week on my balcony, looking at the spoonbills on the lake, thinking of the lyrics that live on in my stories if nowhere else.


Shelley Marie Nelms

Shelley Marie Nelms is a writer of fiction and poetry from Atlanta, Georgia. She studied Creative Writing at Middle Georgia State University, and you can find her previous work in The Fall Line Review. She enjoys nighttime, songwriting, and her cat, Cleopatra. 

Previous PostExtras: The Definitive End
Next PostEarworms and Mundane Horror: Interview with Saba D. Ha