I have spent the last 5 days writing 5 songs. This is the most material I have ever written in this short of a time frame. It usually takes me a few months to finish a couple of songs. I used to think this was because the development of a song is a "process," and an emotional one at that. I had to "process" what I wanted to say, figure out what musically would best express this and go through a torment of "is this good, is this bad" thoughts that usually brought on some tears and turned me off from finishing anything until I absolutely felt I had to. I tell my students all the time to let the songs come out how they want to, and to let go of their perfectionism. But I did not realize how much I have been obsessed with perfectionism in songwriting until this past week. It takes a lot of energy and effort to write when you are attached to each song being THE song. Perfectionism takes energy away from the actual writing process.
The first song that came out with ease and joy this week is, by no accident, about dealing with being a perfectionist. "I sew up my fingers to keep from playing the wrong string / keep them in the cupboard so they won't teach the pen to sing / harmony reinvents herself through the ages and the continents / but I hold myself to some kind of perfection..." Music doesn't know "perfect." Songwriting is about showing up and letting go so that our natural ability can help the song be born.
Being a songwriter is a privilege. You get to bring something new into the world every day. Being stuck in the creative process happens only when we are attached to what that new thing is. Creation is simple. It happens when we are not worrying and not watching too closely. It happens when we are THERE! All we have to do is show up. It really takes only showing up and not much more to create. Yes, there is skill required and and you get better over the years. But even with all the skill in the world, you cannot create something that never existed if you don’t show up right NOW. If you wait until tomorrow, until you are "More perfect" it is too late. That song that could have been written in that moment did not happen. And it did not happen, not because you weren't good enough, but because you were not there for it to happen!!
Why "show up?"
For creation to happen, someone must show up. It might as well be YOU or I, because we have something to say, and we know that music is our vehicle to say it. You know the coan about the tree falling in the woods? “How can you know creation happened if you weren't there to witness it?” Songwriting happens when you are there to listen to the song that wants to be created. Creating is much more about showing up to bear witness to what is possible, then actually having to DO anything specific. This is the trap I have fallen into in the past with my writing. As soon as I TRY to DO the THING that I THINK is RIGHT, I have closed the door to true creativity. When you simply show up, and you show up fully, there is no struggle, no attachment. There is only bearing witness. What is it you are witnessing? Sound, space, silence, words and when you see the possibility in this, you begin to mold and shape these tools into what becomes a song. But it continues to feel as if you are not doing anything except looking, watching, listening, being. Why this is, I'm not sure I even know, but that is what it feels like to me. And, in this experience I have written more material in a short time then I ever had, with the most ease and joy. It's material that in the end, I am very very proud of. But had I stopped during the process to ask if I'd liked it, it would have disrupted the entire experience. There is a delicate balance in showing up.
What is "showing up?"
Showing up is as simple as putting the hours in. In these last few days, I've realized how much I often think I am working on a song or practicing a piece when in fact I'm not. I am physically there, but sometimes I'm watching the clock, thinking about that email I forgot to answer, ect. Showing up means being there with your entire being. It means really being there, fully present, for the specific purpose of writing, for the duration of the time you set aside. It takes practice to show up, and to learn how to work. So you can't start all at once. On the first day of writing, two hours felt like a lot. And I am someone who practices about that much every day. But because this time I was fully showing up, it took a lot more energy and attention. By yesterday, four hours was nothing. If it wasn't for my commitment to also spend the majority of the day with taking a hike with my dad and hanging out with my mom in the garden, I would have spent a lot more time.
Creation happens when we least expect it. Creation is elegant. There is ease and grace when we are simply there to be there, to explore our own relationship to creativity. The color of the sky changes, the trees, the air. When we are there with our full selves and all that is happening the space around us, then we can truly hear what it is that wants to be brought forward and birthed from our beings.
When do you "Show up" and how should you "show up?"
You show up now, and you must show up no matter what. You show up with any doubt and fear, with the annoyance and frustration. You carry all that you are, all that you experience to the act creating. You do not deny any of it. You do not try to do anything differently, or even try to shrug off any negative relationship to the process. You simply let all you experience in the moment be part of what you are creating. This is how songs that are the most true are written. This is what makes a song true: when the musician does not deny who she is, but puts all of it into the song. This is the difference between a song that we feel deeply when we hear it and a song that passes us by. We spend so much time trying to be perfect, trying not to do the wrong thing, that we waste our precious creativity. But being an artist is about learning to have freedom and joy in the face of all of our fears. Learning to pick up the pen and the instrument even when we don't want to, we are scared and we don't have the time. When we do what we do dissipate these feelings, we honor the power of music, we honor why we love it and why write in the first place. And the writing becomes easier and more joyful as a result. It is only when we resist our compete experience of the process, thinking it should feel or sound a different way, that we become stuck.
What is it like when you are showing up?
I wrote about witnessing above. Being a songwriter is like witnessing the process of birth. When you are simply showing up and a song comes to completion, it is a miracle. This thing that is going to be heard over and over again suddenly exists where before there was only space, silence, and the tender, fragile possibility for sound and song. Showing up to write means you surrender your control. My songs for me are alive, they are a force beyond me, even though they came from me initially. They take on their own personalities as they grow and become more refined. And even when they are "finished," they continue to grow and change with every performance as the audiences influences them.
When we show up, our amazing internal ability to create will do most of the work for us. The task is to begin. Shoe up, for a certain length of time, and be open to what is possible. Yes it takes time to develop a skill, and songwriting is no exception. Yes over the years, through the hours you put in, you will learn to write with more ease, freedom and beauty. But the thing remains the same, for all of that to even have the space to develop, you must show up.
Are you ready to write a song?
I teach so many different techniques on how to write. But one thing I really want to leave with you today, if somehow you missed it... is: JUST SHOW UP. Wherever you are, however you are, no matter how many songs you've written. Just show up and keep showing up. The rest, leave to the songs. They will write themselves when the unsure and scared part of you gets out of the way and you show up anyways. It is music that brought you here in the first place. So show up with all your passion, do the unimaginable, trust in your ability to create, trust in the miracles and give birth to a song.