A Second Chance at Christmas Memories

Merry Christmas to you!

I hope you’re having a wonderful day … and that you get to hear one of my favorite Christmas songs at some point.

It’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” by Hugh Martin.

But the version we listen to now on the radio is a far cry from Martin’s first draft. And if he hadn’t been given a second chance on the piece, it might never have made it off the drawing board.

Flash back to 1944. Martin, a professional songwriter, was working on the musical movie Meet Me in St. Louis. He turned in his lyrics … but director Vicente Minnelli rejected them.

“This song is too depressing,” he said.

Martin could have scrapped the whole thing. Instead, he revised the words to be more positive and upbeat, adding key phrases like, “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”

Judy Garland went on to sing the new version, and it was a major success.

So successful, in fact, that a number of other artists wanted to record a version of their own. Chief among them was Frank Sinatra … but he still thought parts of the song weren’t jolly enough. So in 1957, Martin changed it again, giving us, “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

And still … that wasn’t the last change. In 2001, Martin—still an active writer—modified the whole song for Del Delker. The new version, “Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas,” was a hit and further boosted the popularity of the classic song.

What can you learn from Martin’s story? First, accept that first drafts are just that—beginnings! There’s very little writing in the world that hasn’t been through multiple drafts—even advertising great David Ogilvy once did 104 drafts to come up with his legendary Rolls-Royce campaign.

Next, embrace feedback! It improves your writing and your final product.

Finally, continually tweak your copy for your audience. It will lengthen the life of your copy and help you get your message to more people, as Martin did each time he updated his song.

Any other lessons you see? Let me know in the comments section … and tomorrow, I’ll be back with more from the man behind America’s most popular Christmas ballet (and he’s not who you think!) …

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Published: December 25, 2013

2 Responses to “A Second Chance at Christmas Memories”

  1. Thanks for the Christmas article, Jen!

    I do see the lesson (and a good one) that you pointed out in the story, but I also see another! I see one of the best lesson I've ever learned about writing: Distance from the project gives the best perspective of the project! When we're too close, we can't see how all the parts come together to function as a whole!

    Guest (Dona McCormack)December 26, 2013 at 10:47 am

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