2 March 2021 -- Feeling Like My Lyrics Can't Keep Up

Here's this week's reflection for my Creativity students, followed by my response to my own assignment:  

Write a reflection of at least 250 words in which you think carefully about a fear that may be interfering with your creative work. Please note: While I will ask you to share this reflection with me, it does NOT need to go on your blog. Posting it publicly or not is entirely up to you.  

Tweedy notes that his fears talk to him, saying things like "Who do you think you are?” and “Are you kidding me with this bullshit?”  His fears include, "I Don’t Know What to Write About" and "I Don’t Think I Have Enough Talent."    

Tharp provides a laundry list her fears:  

People will laugh at me.  
Someone has done it before.  
I have nothing to say.  
I will upset someone I love.  
Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind.  
I’m not sure how to do it.  

So what, exactly, is one fear you are having related to your creative work, as specifically as you can define and articulate it?  Why do you think you have this fear?  Where does it seem to be coming from?  How is it affecting your creative efforts?  And how might you address it?  What might you do differently moving forward to work with or around or in spite of it?    

Sidebar -- You can’t think or feel your way of a difficult situation: you need to do something, and that almost always means doing something different from what you have been doing.  

Now, as I said at the beginning, you are not required nor expected to post this reflection on your blog -- unless you want to. If you think you might want to, here's two quotations that might help you do so.   

“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that is the moment you might be starting to get it right.”  ― Neil Gaiman  

"You need your human frailty to be at least somewhat visible if you want to connect on an emotional level—if you want things to feel real. Pay attention to how you feel when you sing the words you’ve written. If you feel a little uncomfortable, maybe a tiny bit embarrassed even, you’re on the right track." -- Jeff Tweedy  


Feeling Like My Lyrics Can’t Keep Up  

One fear that is currently affecting my creativity is my worry that my lyrical abilities won’t keep up with my musical abilities. I now have three strong sets of chord changes waiting for good lyrics to go with them, three half-finished songs, in other words, and the music for all three is interesting, more complicated, more accomplished than most of what I have done before. And best of all, all three came to be fairly easily. Once I sat down with the guitar in my hand and thought, “OK, let’s write some music,” that is exactly what happened, and without a lot of drama or difficulty. And that’s great, of course. I can easily see growth, development, evolution, and confidence in musical sensibilities.  

The down side is that two of the three seem to be asking me for an entirely different kind of achievement in my lyrics — just a quantum leap better — than what I have done to date. They are beautiful and complicated structures of sound, and I’m afraid I can’t come up with lyrics that will do them justice. It’s all the normal fears about writing lyrics – this is trite, sophomoric, vapid, unbelievable, self-indulgent, will sound ludicrous in a few months or a year, etc. – but ramped up on steroids. It feels like I need to work through these fears on an ever-higher tightrope, and not succeeding will result in ever more spectacular failures.  

So what I want to do instead is to keep writing more chord changes — because they are coming pretty easy these days, and I am good at it, and there is no struggle involved, and the results are pleasing. But if I indulge my fear and go that way, I will just be piling up more half-finished songs, further increasing my fear that my lyrics can’t keep up, and just digging myself a bigger hole.  

What I have to do, I think, is to lower the stakes involved, lower the bar, and trust in the power of the writing process, trust in revision. That is, I need to trust in DEEP revision – in re-vision, in literally re-seeing a draft set of lyrics as a whole, and being willing to simply throw things out wholesale that don’t seem to be working and stating completely over if necessary, not as a result of some kind of failure on my part, but as a completely normal part of the process. Or better yet, I could simply begin generating multiple sets of lyrics, entirely different sets of words for the same set of chord changes and then picking the one that works best. I’ve never done that, actually. I have always worked with and worked through the first set of lyrics that have presented themselves to me for a given chunk of music, however challenging that has been. There’s no reason to constrain myself that way, though. 

My lyrical Plan B, then, will be to develop Plan B, and C, and D, and so on whenever they are needed without feeling they are indications of some kind of failure, but rather feeling that they are, when needed, a perfectly normal part of the process.

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