So I recently had the privilege of giving a quick lesson on creative writing (i.e songwriting, poetry, etc..) at a faith-based arts camp. My friend works there and asked me to come and share my bit of "wisdom" on songwriting for her writing class.
I am not the best speaker, so beforehand I went ahead and wrote out all that I wanted to talk about, so I figured I would post it here incase anyone else was interested in reading it.
As I have already shared a bit about my own writing process here, I left out the bit about that and am skipping ahead:
So we could sit here and I could talk about inspiration, and what inspires us all in different ways and go into detail about capturing the wind or that perfect sunlight that sparks a feeling in you that makes you want to write a song, but that wouldn't really help any of you because honestly I think that "inspiration" is different for everybody. It's elusive and it's hard to pinpoint.
Thomas Edison put it like this: "Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration." So even though inspiration is super important when you're wanting to write a good song or some kind of poetry, I think that GOOD songs and GOOD writing of any kind is more about perspiration. It's when you saturate yourself in something and work hard at it often. That's when it produces results. It's like a muscle. It sounds silly, but you don't grow muscles from just being inspired to go to the gym. You gain muscle by working hard and developing them over time. I always find that anytime I'm feeling uninspired, if I just pick up my guitar and start playing around with songs I already know, or even just start making something up on the spot, inspiration will sort of sneak up on me. So with anything creativity-wise, I think the best approach to take when you're not feeling inspired is to just throw yourself into it. You'll find that the more you create, wether it's "good" or "bad", you learn from it, and you will come up with bits and pieces that you actually like and that you can build off of or take away from.
Thomas Edison also said: Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always just to try one more time.
Which brings me to my next point. And that is to release yourself from the pressure of writing something "Good". We all kind of have this instinctual idea that we've got to sit down and create something awesome. But the reality is that throughout your life you are going to constantly be producing art on various scales from mediocre, to good, to hopefully GREAT. And it's important to accept this fluctuation and be okay with it. Not everything you are going to write is going to be mind blowing. But that's okay! It's imperative that we be okay with failure, because it's not actually failure. It's just an idea that didn't quite work out, and we can't let those failed ideas become discouragement. I've found that in releasing myself from the pressure to write something good, it often gives me the headspace to write with more of a carefree state of mind. And oftentimes those songs will end up being the best ones because I wasn't putting this unnecessary pressure on myself. Instead I was just writing purely for the fun of it, and when you're having fun and enjoy what you're doing, it shows in your work. But you have to figure you are going to write a lot of mediocre stuff in order to get to something amazing. Wether it's songs or poetry or any kind of writing that you do, if you keep at it, you will eventually land on something amazing. There is no right or wrong way to be creative and there is no right or wrong way to write a song. Just start with honesty, and with whatever is in your heart, and keep doing exactly that.
And the next thing is: Don't get hung up on the "good" things you write. It's okay to appreciate your work, and to be proud of it. But recognize that all of our gifts are from God, the creator of creativity himself. It's okay to let your heart be joyful when you strike gold in your writing, (and you'll know it when you do,) but just remember that the glory belongs to God. But here's the thing: Don't stop writing. Don't be satisfied with one great piece of work. Be thankful and hold it with open hands and say "Okay, God, you've given me something great here, but I'm giving it back to you." And just keep writing. Because what will happen is if you keep riding that same wave of the last great thing you wrote, and allow yourself to be content with that, you let your practice slide and you get out of habit and your perspiration evaporates. So even if you think you've written the best song in the world, keep writing. Because God is always working and moving in our lives and he has so much more for us than we often take hold of. So if we keep showing up and are faithfully stewarding the gifts he's given us, he is going to keep pouring out on us. But also remember that rest is essential to not getting burned out. God created the world and then he rested. It's okay to give yourself space to rest and create absolutely nothing for a while, but don't let that go on for too long. Don't let your rest become laziness.
I heard once that "Our talents are God's gifts to us, but what we do with them is our gift back to God." So if God has put a creative spark in your heart, take responsibility for it and have the discipline to keep working out that muscle. And that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be a "christian artist" or write worship songs or write books about God, although you could do that if you wanted. But it's more about the attitude of your heart and how you give the glory you receive back to God. It's about letting compliments roll off your back and keeping your pride in check. Be humble and don't let your identity be found in your art. Our identity should be found in Christ. So no matter how great you ever get or how much you achieve through your music or your writing, don't let that become who you are. An easier way to say that would be: Put who you are into your work, but don't let your work become who you are. Be responsible to cultivate that artistic flame, but keep in mind that our only true standing in this world is that we are sons and daughters of Christ.
And this next and last thing is super important: Don't, under any circumstance, compare yourself to others. To anyone. Not your brothers, your sisters, your friends, your piers, or even those you admire. Wether you think someone is better than you, or you think you are better than someone else, those are unhealthy thoughts that you need to take captive. Don't compare and don't let jealousy rule in your heart. Recognize when those thoughts come knocking at the door and turn them away. Don't let negative thoughts inhabit your mind. "Comparison is the thief of joy", and it destroys creativity at it's root. God has made each of us uniquely our own. And our creativity is all uniquely different for a reason and for a purpose. Because God himself is limitless! He never runs out of ideas and because of that he has given each of us such an important role to be unique in this world. But it's perfectly okay to be inspired by another artists work. It's a beautiful part of the process, but don't compare and contrast and put yourself down or try to duplicate what someone else is doing. Just go with what comes out of you naturally. Being honest and true to yourself will reap the best harvest. And I know that any form of creative writing is an extremely vulnerable process. It can be terrifying when you are opening up your heart and sharing that with people. But don't let the opinions of others stop you from becoming who you want to be. Like I mentioned earlier, all the glory belongs to God anyways, so we can release ourselves from the pressure of trying to achieve more than the next person and release ourselves from any crippling jealousy. Because it's not a competition. Encourage one another and have fun and don't take yourself too seriously! Be humble enough that when other people succeed at the thing you want to be doing with your life, that you can genuinely be excited for them, knowing that their success does not equate to your failure. Any fame or praise that we or anyone else receives in this life doesn't actually belong to us, so don't be threatened by others success and don't let other peoples opinions hold you back. Just trust your instincts and have fun with it, because if you are creating something that God has put on your heart to create, you can be proud of it knowing that it's all from him and for him.
So just have fun with your writing! Write about what you know and be true to yourself and work hard, but don't put too much pressure on yourself. If you're not enjoying the process, then throw all your expectations out the window and just have fun with it.
Thanks for reading!