Story Behind the Song: “Wishing You Well”

“Wishing You Well”, a song I wrote back in 2007 and recently included on my The Road That I Must Take album, came about as the result of a songwriting challenge. On June 18, 2007, the local Orange County chapter of Just Plain Folks picked two possible song titles, “Wishing You Well” and “The Last Good Day”, and challenged members to write a new song to one or both of those titles in time to perform the resulting song at the next meeting, which would be held on July 16th of that same year. I wrote songs to both titles.

My initial reaction to “Wishing You Well” was a bit of a gagging reflex. It sounded like something out of a greeting card to me. I couldn’t imagine its working for going beyond some sort of trite, cliched lyric. Where would the emotion come from with such a bland sentiment? But a challenge is a challenge…

I sat down the next day and started out brainstorming with myself on the idea. Maybe there was some sort of wordplay that could emerge from different definitions of the word “well”? After all the idea of “Wishing You Well” was itself a bit of a pun on “wishing well”. That didn’t lead anywhere.

At some point it struck me that maybe my reaction to the song title — i.e. gagging at the greeting card-like phrase — might hold the key. I was probably just thinking of it as a joke at first, but I ultimately jotted down a concept for a storyline as follows:

He was going to propose to her, but she broke up with him instead, so he wishes her well, for a lukewarm moment instead of an intensely emotional one.

I wrote a couple initial drafts of a lyric that same day, and put the second draft up on a lyric critique board for comments. The lyric at that point captured the basic storyline of what would later become the final lyric, but it had a long way to go, and the comments were far from flattering (to put it mildly).

Third and fourth drafts written on the afternoon of June 20th came quite a bit closer. One key breakthrough was coming up with what would become the final bridge of the song, explicitly mentioning the greeting card reference:

I can’t believe what I’m saying
My heart and brain are charred
I should be crying or screaming
But I sound like a greeting card

The idea was that the woman’s breaking up with him, just as he was about to propose to her, was such a shock that he was more or less left speechless, or at least babbling, not being able to say anything close to what he was really feeling.

Feedback on that fourth draft was much more favorable, and a fifth draft, put together on June 22nd, including recording a rough demo to share the musical side, resulted in the verses and bridge being in final form. In fact, the chorus lyric was close, too, but there was one word that was sticking out like a sore thumb. That draft got mostly favorable feedback.

I waited some time for comments to drift in, making a final revision of the lyric (draft six) on July 9th — a week earlier than needed for the song’s Just Plain Folks meeting debut. That debut also met with pretty positive response, but then the song more or less sat on a shelf for a decade or so, though it’s possible I may have performed it a very few times in between. As best I can explain that, the song was really just a made up story. It really didn’t mean much to me.

Cut to early October of 2018. Over the past roughly one year I’d gotten very close to a woman who shall remain nameless. We’d been spending a lot of quality time together. While it had not gotten to a romantic level, it was starting to feel like it was on the verge. There was one big complication I won’t go into, but it was feeling (at least to me) inevitable that it would clear up based on what I understood of the situation. Suffice it to say I was starting to feel very optimistic about the potential for the relationship to progress to another level.

Wrong! Instead of getting closer, or even staying where we were, she pulled away, extremely suddenly, with no warning and only the most surface-level of explanations.

It was in this context that I remembered the song I’d written eleven years earlier. I pulled it out and worked it up to play live, deciding soon thereafter to begin recording it, initially thinking I’d put it out as a digital single. By the time I finished recording it, though, there were other developments, and I ultimately decided to put a full-length album together, including this song as one of the tracks. Here is the final version of the song from that album: