Saturday, April 25, 2009

Creative Discipline - Clearing the path of your songwriting pursuit

Creative discipline. The mere union of these two words seems to hurl questions in one’s direction. Why does the statement seem to contradict itself? Why does the concept feel like it appeals simultaneously to diametrically opposed parts of myself? Being creative means throwing off the constraints and structures that discipline imposes and just “going with the flow” doesn’t it?

The colloquial understanding of the nature of both creativity and discipline does seem to make their marriage counter-intuitive. The term seems to assume the concept that inspiration can be commanded. That it will come at your bidding, within your schedule. That it is always within you and can be tapped at anytime. There is certainly truth within this. It seems to me though, that there is a broader paradoxical reality in the elusive mystery of inspiration, which makes such artificial absolutes seem incomplete and almost boorish.

Perhaps we should make a distinction between creating ‘something’ and creating ‘something inspired’. You know the difference. Some days you sit down to write a song and it just flows out effortlessly, carrying all the hallmarks of inspiration. Other times, it is a labour of love – if you don’t despise it by the time it’s finished! In both instances something has been created. But you are likely to feel very differently about one than the other. And listeners are likely to feel very differently too…

So if we take as given the common wisdom that “you get nothing if you do nothing” and the knowledge that by concerted and diligent effort you will certainly produce “something”, then we are free to look further behind the curtain and explore what role discipline may have in our pursuit of “something inspired”.

As a songwriter, if you are happy to be casually creative, then it is perfectly legitimate to write when inspiration strikes and to leave long pauses when it doesn’t. There is no rule that song writing has to be consuming.

However, what if there is something deep inside of you that badly wants, even ‘needs’ to write. To ‘get out’ what is tumbling around inside like a full bowl that needs to be poured out. To add to the dilemma, what if you find yourself blocked or ‘artistically frigid’, as though there were a disconnect between your inherent desire and your freedom to let yourself engage with that desire?

This is a dilemma indeed, for to be in this position is to be at add odds with one’s self. At odds with a very central and core part of one’s self. And that is not a rift that can be maintained for very long without cracks appearing somewhere. The most common course of action here is to take none. To avoid the deep knowing that something within you is wanting to make itself available to Inspiration, by avoiding the creative process altogether. This is the attempt to avoid the pain of the disconnect between desire and reality by dulling down the desire. At great cost to one’s own heart, and great loss to the world within it’s reach.

It at this point that discipline appears as an unlikely hero, offering to clear the path extended from your deepest desires and to rid it of it’s blockages. This is not the personal discipline that will methodically schedule space in your schedule, nor the professional discipline that will set a five-year plan and stick to it. This is the discipline of the soul that will avoid avoiding, and will sit down in your creative space and allow the inner fears, questions and anxieties that block your creative path to be felt, seen, acknowledged and faced. It is the discipline that will ask “Why am I afraid of tapping my creative space?”, “What is stopping me from living from this desire”, “Why do I think I’m not allowed?” It is the discipline that leads a heart to repentance. It is the discipline that will hold something broken out to the Healer instead of hiding it away.

This kind of discipline may be a confronting ally in your creative pursuit, yet it seems that once truth is acknowledged and faced, Grace appears to soothe what is frayed and to fix what is broken. And I suspect, that it is in this process that the way is cleared to connect with True Inspiration once again.
creative space, creative project, creative resources, more creative, being creative, creative world

creative space, creative project, creative resource, more creative, being creative, creative worldcreative space, creative project, creative resource, more creative, being creative, creative world
creative space, creative project, creative resource, more creative, being creative, creative world

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Songwriting: Exploring The Mystery

Song writing is an inherently mysterious process. There is an indefinable quality in the way in which inspiration for a song comes and is translated from ‘nothingness’ into substance. You soon learn that no matter how deep you hone your craft or sharpen your technical skills; you never outgrow your sense of awe that sometimes songs will just ‘come to you’ that you need simply to ‘let out’. The discovering of and chasing after this elusive mystery of creativity is the great quest of any artist.

Of course there are legitimate and pragmatic fundamentals in any art form. Held in tension against any ethereal mystery are the practical tools and realities we have great command of. It goes without saying that any art is communicated via certain fundamentals. Beautifully mathematical relationships between notes and harmony; wonderfully comprehensive interactions between words and melody; perfectly intelligent methods of combining the raw elements of song matter are all essential fundamentals. But to sum-up the art of song writing in terms of it’s irreducible minimums is a reductionist approach which may well describe the nuts and bolts of a song, but will never quite capture the soul of it. Anything that is truly creative, meaningful and transcendent cannot be reduced to the confines of our methods and formulas no matter how cleverly we put them. The intangible remains.

So how to navigate that tension? We have a healthy respect for the craft that prepares the way for the art. Lyrics harmony, structure, form, and melody; the combinations and interactions of these forms are a high craft. It is possible and often necessary to write by skill and craft alone when the elusive inspiration departs. This approach can still create good songs, even great songs, often mimicking the footsteps that inspiration left behind. As a songwriter I will not hold back from getting up close and personal with the rudimentary tools of my trade, but I will do so and not say that this ‘it’.

I have tasted and I am ruined and I am addicted to that mystery feeling. Therefore in all my craft endeavours I am alert and expectantly preparing for inspiration to make it’s way into my equation. And oh the excitement when the inspiration comes! To write this way is to be caught up into something more magnificent than yourself, and yet the joy of being so inextricably linked with Mystery is the songwriter’s dance of delight.

This, it seems to me, is how the songs that linger in your heart are written.