a songwriter's soliloquy

You know the feeling. That defeated feeling when you’ve set it all up just right: a blank document on your computer or open page in your journal, a perfectly tuned acoustic guitar, a quiet room, maybe even a freshly lit candle — what should be the perfect *inspiring* space for a fruitful writing session. Full of determination and excitement, you begin to strum… but your mind goes blank. You play the same 3 chords over and over again, hoping for that perfect combination of a heart-wrenching melody and eloquent lyrics to come out of your mouth. But nothing comes, and before you realize it, you feel defeated.

This was me, over and over again, as I began my journey of songwriting. It was full of struggle and rarely ended with what some might describe as a “win.” When I was young, I have a distinct memory of God saying He would give me songs for this generation to sing. I was sure that God had called me to write songs for the church. So, why the struggle? How do so many of us as worship leaders wrestle to produce the songs our hearts desperately desire to lead?

It took me a long time and a lot of tears to realize that like many things in life, songwriting is a process. It is an art that must be crafted and refined. But more than that, it is a journey — and a sanctifying one at that. This journey requires dependence, surrender, creativity, and endurance. It requires the Spirit of God to be present and us to be listening.

If you can relate, I have some encouragement for you that I hope will help you along your journey:

  • Let go. Release the pressure of having to come up with the *perfect* song. The harder you try to write it, the more impossible it becomes to write. Perfection is not the goal, surrender is. The times where my writing struggles the most are the times when I realize I’ve stopped writing for my Creator and started writing for what I think others want to hear. Honor Him with your gifts and let Him drive your songwriting.

  • Ask God for a word from Him. If we believe God’s Spirit is alive and inspiring our hearts to do His will, don’t you think He will inspire the church with new songs that express truth and bring Him glory? Maybe you are that truth-bearing vessel. Try to think of people and situations that you are aware of in your church — what do those people need to be singing? What truths do they need to hear?

  • Listen to songs that are resonating with your heart and spirit. Try to emulate those. Maybe even write new words over a melody you love from another person’s song or lyrics over someone else’s melody, just to get started.

  • Break the mold. Write creatively. Maybe you start with a drum beat loop to get you going, or you use a less familiar instrument as you write to stretch your knowledge base. Don’t let yourself fall into a rut of writing the same song over and over.

  • Collaborate. This is a hard one! Be brave and show someone else what you’ve been working on (even if it’s unfinished). Surround yourself with people who will both encourage you and push you in your writing. I’ve found that my writing skills grow leaps and bounds when I have the courage to share my songs with other worship leaders to get their feedback. They might see blind spots in your songs or have helpful tips for how to nail what you’re trying to say. It’s risky to the ego, but well worth it.

  • Finish, and then start again! Don’t let too many pieces of your songs linger undone. Finish what you’re working on (even if you don’t love it) and start another. It’s too easy to write a thousand fragments but never bring anything to completion. Or, to write a great song, but never write again. Continue to craft your gift by completing them often.

Maybe this isn’t your story. God has gifted many leaders with a natural ability for writing, where the songs just “flow” out with little effort and the whole experience feels serene. However, in my experience, most writers are in the former camp. They struggle. And too often they give up. If you have a desire to write songs for the Kingdom, tell that to God and bring Him into the struggle. He might surprise you with the songs He brings. And when He gives them, use them for His glory.