When Your Own Writing Disappoints You

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

"Writers Block 2" artwork for article "When Your Own Writing Disappoints You"It’s happened to all of us.  We have an idea that seems grand — even transcendent — in the mind. But once it is on paper, we feel like telling anyone who might read it, “I guess you had to be there.” There, meaning “the spot in my mind.”

Author/songwriter/Sovereign Grace pastor Stephen Altrogge says,

“One of my big principles is that I’m okay with writing trash. To be good at writing anything, you need to do it a lot. In the process of doing it a lot, you’re bound to write a lot of total garbage. So I’ve written lots of lame songs, sentences, and blog posts. And that’s okay. I think I’ve written some decent ones too. Some people get so hung up on being perfect that they never finish anything.”

I can identify. Whenever I write a song I think, “This is my best ever.” That’s just the euphoria talking. It might last a day; it might last a week. I obsessively read and listen to my new song, far beyond that which is helpful. Inevitably within a week, a reverse-euphoria sets in. I think “This is the worst song I’ve ever written. This is horrible. Maybe I’ve lost it. Maybe I’ll never write a good song again.”

A day or two later I realize I’ve read, listened and edited my demo so many times that I can’t see the forest for the trees. At this point I simply have to trust outside opinion, because I have no idea if the song is my best, my worst, or something in between.

And what if outside opinion confirms that my latest effort is middling or worse? In times like these I remind myself of a G.K. Chesterton quote:

“You could compile the worst book in the world entirely out of selected passages from the best writers in the world.”

Some of your songs will be better than others. This is true of everyone. Charles Wesley wrote 6500, most of which time has forgotten. And Fanny Crosby wrote 8000, the bulk of which even serious hymnologists never read or sing.

No one bats 1.000. Just keep trying. Meanwhile, ask yourself if you’re “filling your palette.” Good writers are good readers. Good songwriters are good listeners. And all good creatives have abundant curiosity.  Singer-songwriter/worship leader Allie Lapointe says,

“Fill your word palette by reading great prose and poetry. Fill your theological palette by studying the Word and listening to sermons. Fill your emotional palette by living life fully, listening to people’s stories, and fully engaging in your own. Fill your artistic palette by engaging in culture – attend concerts, art shows, and community events. Keep your idea radar up at all times – songs are hiding in people’s prayers, newspaper headlines, and Bible pages.”

Writer’s Block 2 photo, top, by Drew Coffman. Used via creative commons license.


KatFrench September 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

This reminds me of a video I saw recently where Ira Glass was talking about “the gap” — creatives, including writers, get into creating because they have good artistic taste. But especially in the beginning, our craftsmanship doesn’t live up to our taste, and we get discouraged in that “gap.”
http://www.accidentalcreative.com/growth/ask-the-readers-living-in-the-gap He’s specifically talking about new writers and artists, but I think you’re always going to produce draft work that is similarly discouraging…

Bobby Gilles September 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Working “in the gap” — I hadn’t thought of it that way before but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing the link, Kat!

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